The typewriters and linotype machines were furiously clacking away… Cigarette smoke turned the air blue… The year was 1960, Nixon and Kennedy were running for President, and the cartoonists, layout staff, copy editors, and office runners of the Democratic Digest were working hard to beat a deadline and push out the next issue of irreverent, energetic political opinion, news, and satire.
You can examine the content being prepared for the 1960 campaign issue as well as many other issues from 1955-1961 in a Rubenstein Library collection, the Democratic Digest Records. The Washington, D.C. publication, headed by Sam Brightman, was the official monthly of the Democratic Party, and the 28 boxes of its records, acquired by the library in 1961, are filled with drafts of editorial columns, political cartoons and other original artwork, and reprinted articles and opinion pieces from pro-Democratic U.S. newspapers across the country.
The correspondence files house provocative and eloquent letters sent in from readers, critics, and Democratic Senators and Governors, addressing the many turbulent political issues of the day: McCarthyism, scandals and corruption, civil rights, labor issues, farm subsidies, the U.S. economy, nuclear weapons, and of course, elections. You’ll hear voices from ordinary citizens facing hard times: “Now that we have the D.D. [Democratic Digest],” writes one reader from Willifor, Arkansas in 1957, “I just don’t see how we could or ever did do without it. My work keeps me on the move and depend on getting it on the new-stands and believe under this new plan it will be easire [sic] done. While I have a wife and 7 children and not year round work, I will plan to get a Sub [subscription] or two for someone that will do something about it. They may do a good deed too.”
The materials in this collection cover a time of intense change and fragmentation in American society. Whether it’s a letter from a labor leader, cartoons featuring donkeys and elephants, or articles about big business being cozy with the government, the Democratic Digest files tell a fascinating tale of American politics and society.
Post contributed by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Visual Materials Processing Archivist.
As we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinners, I leave you with a few images from a recent acquisition of thirty-four medical prints collected and donated by William H. Helfand. The posters date mainly from 18th century Paris, but the earliest dates to 1695 (the Kospter poster below) and the latest to 1991. They are all beautiful prints–heavy with political satire and caricatures, quack doctors and alchemy. But they also serve as wise reminders to eat in moderation this season. Happy Thanksgiving from the Rubenstein Library!
Post contributed by Joanne Fairhurst, Technical Services Intern and doctoral candidate in the Classical Studies Dept.
Among the many fascinating documents, portraits, and letters of early Methodist preachers and missionaries in the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism are a variety of woodcut prints, engravings, and other visual sources depicting subjects as varied as social satire and British birds that might be rather unexpected in a collection that is primarily concerned with religious history. As an art historian, I am particularly drawn to such visual records, and so was especially struck by both the beautiful technique and the relative completeness of a portfolio of etchings by George Cruikshank in which the artist depicts various scenes from the adventures of Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff.
Cruikshank, a prominent nineteenth-century British artist who worked primarily in graphic media, is known for his virulent social satires and is frequently discussed alongside similarly comic-minded Brits such as William Hogarth and Thomas Rowlandson. By the middle of the nineteenth century, Cruikshank’s reputation was well-established and the artist had already completed prints for pamphlets by his friend, William Hone, a series of illustrations of the works of Charles Dickens, and the first English edition of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. It is around this time that Cruikshank began work on a concept for a collaborative project with Robert B. Brough which, upon its publication in 1858, would be entitled The Life of Sir John Falstaff: A Biography of the Knight from Authentic Sources.
A copy of Brough’s rather unusual text is available in Rubenstein Library and provides an imaginative biography of the fictional Falstaff, who appears in the Bard’s Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsorand who is himself believed to have been a satirical portrayal of one of Shakespeare’s unfortunate contemporaries.
Cruikshank’s etchings appear throughout The Life of Sir John Falstaff, illustrating twenty scenes with expressive lines and an abundance of humorous detail in a compact, approximately 5×8” book-size format. While processing visual sources in the Baker Collection, I came across a larger set of these same prints; seventeen unbound plates on crisp white paper that are approximately 10×14” in size. The higher quality of the etched lines and cross-hatching seems to indicate that the Baker portfolio is an earlier edition. Missing only three scenes from the set reproduced in Brough’s text, the Baker Collection series begins with a print that is dated 1857 and bears a handwritten dedication along the bottom of the page, signed lightly in pencil by the artist and brought to my attention by archivist Michael Shumate.
The Falstaff print, a smaller copy of which also appears at the start of Brough’s book, depicts the portly title character, perched on a seat wearing pseudo-chivalric garb and staring out at the viewer, his mouth pursed in what can only be described as a mischievous grin. In addition to the volume’s title, publisher, and other documentary information, the print is inscribed with Cruikshank’s inimitable stylized signature which corresponds directly to the dedication, “Richard Ellison Esq. – with the regards of Geo. Cruikshank” scribbled below.
How this unique object came into the possession of Frank Baker, a former professor in Duke’s Religion Department, is a mystery; however the prints themselves invite further study. Did this 1857 portfolio serve as a kind of prototype for the images included in Brough’s 1858 book? What was the historical reception of Falstaff, and how would Cruikshank’s prints have been understood by nineteenth-century individuals? Indeed, these questions and countless other subjects of interest to art historians, British scholars, and literature students emerge in this visual document. Fortunately for those who, like myself, are intrigued by Cruikshank’s work and would like to learn more, Duke Libraries maintains a number of different sources on the topic, located at both the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library and within Lilly Library’s collection. In addition to the Cruikshank materials, the Baker Collection of Wesleyana contains more than 10,000 visual documents including portraits, landscapes, maps, and many other fascinating scenes.
Elisabeth Narkin is a doctoral student in Duke’s Dept. of Art, Art History and Visual Studies. She is also a student assistant in Rubenstein Technical Services.
Like most everyone else, I’ve been enjoying our beautiful spring weather. However, part of me still yearns for the winter I never experienced. So I’m returning to a manuscript I cataloged last year that contains illustrations I now associate with the chillier months.
Surgeon Major A. F. Elliot served several tours of duty with the 2nd West India Regiment in West Africa, primarily in Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana. He maintained diaries for six of those tours, from 1866-1881, and used calligraphy for all month titles. There are also watercolor paintings, photographs, and charts.
I don’t read manuscript volumes I’m cataloging in their entirety or I’d never be able to keep pace with the new acquisitions arriving. Duke Alumni Magazine had also published an article on this volume. After I finished my catalog record, I reviewed the volume again to see if we had missed anything. That’s when I came across this title for September 1874.
Elliot’s first entry for the month states “Rain & drizzle in the morning—Bale has drawn the heading this month[,] emblematical weather—rain all day.” I continued my perusal. October’s heading was fun, but November’s was stunning in both its design and detail.
My student assistant, Sophia Durand, and I recently did a little research and found that these watercolors were painted by Elliot’s friend John Edward Bale, who was a member of the 1st. West India Regiment. Bale was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain during the months he created these paintings, and his signature changed accordingly. He retired from the Army as a Major, continued painting in both oil and watercolors, and several of those works have been sold at auction houses.
At the time I admit I was a tad disappointed that Bale painted only an accompanying illustration for Elliot’s December entry, rather than incorporating the month into it. To compensate, it pleased me that the church looks somewhat like the original Perkins Library building we are now in the process of renovating.
Imagine my astonishment when I discovered I was wrong about the absence of the month in the painting. I only became aware of it after I took a digital image of it for this blog post. Do you see “December”?
I’ve showed the paintings to my colleagues in Technical Services, and many of us rank these watercolors among our most amazing discoveries made while processing a manuscript collection.
Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Archivist/Original Cataloger in the Technical Services Dept..
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University