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Guide to the Leo Hershokowitz Collection of Newspaper Illustrations and Billheads
1840's-1911
 PR 263

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Kelly McAnneny and Susan Kriete

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on July 07, 2015
Description is in English

Biographical/Historical note

This collection of illustrated newspapers and billheads was compiled by historian Leo Hershkowitz, long-time professor at Queens College who retired in 2005.

Newspaper illustrations with wood engravings became very popular around the mid-nienteenth century. It was at this time that a number of developments made it practical to produce a newspaper filled with illustrations. First, wood engraving was a relief process, so the images could be printed from the same presses, and even on the same page as typeface. Secondly, procedures were developed which made it quick and easy to go from a manuscript drawing to a print, and then steel facing allowed for the production of thousands of images from the engraved woodblocks.

The first newspaper to feature wood-cut illustrations was The Illustrated London News, founded in 1842. In 1851, the first American illustrated newspaper appeared. Originally called Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, its name was changed to Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1855. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper appeared in 1855, followed two years later by the most successful of all the American illustrated newspapers, Harper’s Weekly. Many other illustrated newspapers appeared in different countries and an article in The Graphic (London), December 6, 1890, depicted the mast heads of twenty-three illustrated newspapers from around the world.

The success of these newspapers lay in their illustrations. These images were wide-ranging in their coverage of events, places, things and persons of interest to the readers, and they were extremely timely in their appearance, often being issued within two weeks of when the images were first drawn. Readers found it new and exciting to be able to have, within days and at an affordable price, a first-hand view of a disaster from across the country, to gaze on an image of a just constructed bridge, or to see contemporary pictures of far-away cities or countries. The prints produced in the nineteenth-century illustrated newspapers were comprehensive in subject and ubiquitous, with the most successful weeklies having press runs of well over 100,000 for each issue. The quality of the engraving is generally very good and many of the drawings were by skilled artists.

In addition to their artistic quality, newspaper illustrations often provide the most accurate and current images done of their subjects, and in some cases these are the only contemporary images of the people, buildings, and events depicted. There were often separately issued prints of the most famous individuals, the most spectacular disasters, the most substantial new structures, the most significant political events, and the most populous cities, but there were thousands of people, events, structures, towns and cities for which illustrated newspaper prints were the only contemporary images ever done.

Illustrated billheads date back to the early 19th century and typically pictured the seller's place of business.