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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Collection of Caricatures and Cartoons
1643, 1756-1943, 1977
 PR 10

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Barr and Larry Weimer

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 14, 2022
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The collection holds about 1600 prints (mostly engravings and lithographs) and pen and ink drawings of humorous and caustic pictorial commentary on political events and social customs. The publication of single-sheet caricatures blossomed in the mid-1700s, and such individually issued prints comprise the bulk of the collection, which also include drawings for editorial cartoons published in newspapers. The caricatures range from the late colonial period in British North America to the mid-twentieth century, with just a few outliers from before and after that range. The bulk of the collection, with about 1300 items, dates from the Jacksonian era beginning in 1828 to the close of the 19th century.

Political matters are especially well-represented in the collection, especially in connection with the electoral politics of Presidential campaigns. Economic policies (e.g., banking, currency, financial speculation, tariff reform, growth of industrial power, etc.) is a major theme, both within the context of presidential elections and as a general theme in the development of the nation. Political corruption is often caricatured, and New York City's Democratic Party (referred to commonly as Tammany, after its headquarters, Tammany Hall) is often the chief target.

African-Americans appear frequently in the images, either as principal subjects or in the background as a subtext to the often layered caricatures of the 19th century. Slavery, abolition and the perceived ability (or inability) of emancipated African-Americans to participate as equals in American society are common subjects in this regard, and commonly drawn with racist imagery, such as in the 1828 "Life in Philadelphia" series and the "Darktown" series of the 1880s drawn by Thomas Worth, James Cameron, and others and published by Currier & Ives.

Over 200 items trace the Civil War era, through the 1860 election and 1864 re-election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession crisis of 1861, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and the battles through to the close of the war. The Spanish-American War is also well-represented with about 270 caricatures from Puck, The Judge, The Bee, The Verdict, and other publications. The disputes between Britain and America and the resulting War for Independence, and then the War of 1812, are represented with many caricatures. The Mexican War, World War I, and World War II have lesser representation.

America's relation with the rest of the world is a common theme. Early on, through the Civil War, these seem to focus principally on concerns with how the European powers (including Russia) perceive the United States and how the new nation might be undermined. Post-Civil War, the theme seems to shift with the United States greater standing in relation to Europe, with an increased paternalism toward Asia and the Caribbean.

Social caricatures can also be found in the collection, often related to the changing role of women, the expanding wealth of the country, class tensions, and the like. Major national events, such as the Gold Rush, are the subject of several caricatures.

Major artists and publishers of lithographed cartoons represented in the collection include, among others, James Baillie, Edward W. Clay, Currier & Ives, David Claypoole Johnston, Thomas Nast, Henry R. Robinson, and Thomas W. Strong. Among the original pen and ink drawings are approximately 35 by Thomas Nast, the chief American cartoonist of the 1870s and 80s.

The finding aid lists most of the caricatures in the collection individually. Titles were transcribed from catalog cards, supplemented with visual confirmation. Additional or clarifying subject headings noted by the archivists are included in [brackets]. Certain "sets" of caricatures, such as the 270 works concerning the Spanish-American War, were listed in more summary fashion.

Some items were not found in the collection during the inventory of 2019-22 although they did have a card catalog record. Generally, these items were listed in this inventory based on the catalog description and noted here as missing.


The collection is organized in 7 chronological series:

Series I. Colonial & Revolutionary Period, 1643, 1756-1790

Series II. Early Republic Period, 1792-1826

Series III. Jacksonian Period, 1828-1840

Series IV. Antebellum Period, 1841-1859

Series V. Civil War and Post-War Period, 1860-1868

Series VI. Late 19th Century, 1869-1899

Series VII. Undetermined Dates, 19th century-20th century

Within each series, the caricatures are arranged in approximate chronological order, using a unique identifier assigned at some point in the past by N-YHS (see processing note). For those without a previously-assigned identifier, just the year and "No #" was used.