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The craving to look at pictures, or even decorative lettering or pure decoration itself, seems to be natural to all types and classes of Americans. Any kind of picture attracts the untutored taste; but of course the preference is generally given to such as, according to the code of the art for art's sake people, should be consigned to eternal perdition as "distinctly literary." But in default of the picture that tells its own direct and indirect comprehensible story, the untaught native taste will accept pretty nearly anything in the general line of graphic art. It is the same in country and in town. The indifference of the New York street crowds to strange
Drawn by Matt Morgan for the Strobridge Lithograph Company in 1881.
sights, odd people, fantastic costumes, and the like has often been noted. Yet
Drawn by Joseph Baker for the Forbes Lithograph Company in 1877.
Types of Early Lithographic Posters.
the hurrying workers who will not give a second glance to an Oriental garbed in dazzling gorgeousness, or even to a dime-museum giant off duty, will stop short at the sight of a sign-painter, and, putting all business or occupation aside, will gaze on him in seemingly helpless fascination while he letters "Eisenstein, Einstein, Ehrenstein, Johnstone & Co." And if by chance he illuminates his handiwork with a design of the garment known as "pants," and bearing a distant and painful resemblance to trousers, the crowd will stay faithfully by him till the last stroke of
his brush-silent, eager, intentlooking upon him as upon one who performs a miracle.
It is, of course, the process of production more than the thing produced that holds the attention of the admiring townsman; but the attraction is not at all unlike that which fills the spirit of the back country boy with wondering rapture when he sees the swift and dexterous pioneers of the circus arrive with pastepots and brushes and ladders and ponderous burdens of huge sheets of paper laid in thick folds like cloth, and with an almost superhuman speed transform old Squire Calkins's long board-fence into a picture gallery that is not only an orgy in the primary colors, but a most marvellous illumination of the
Designed and printed by the Strobridge Lithograph Company. Ar Example of the primitive and confused theatrical posters.
Do you wonder that he loves it? Do you wonder that his soul prostrates itself before the elephant whose ears are so big that the ends of the flaps have to be supported by two attendant Nubians? Do you wonder that he loves the dromedary with four humps? No dromedary in his "jogafy-book" has any such holiday allowance of humps. Of course he will not see these marvellous features, and, in a certain sense, he knows it. They were not visible in last year's circus; and his cynical elder brother has openly and blasphemously denied their existence. But as he watches the great pictured sheets drying out in the sun, and smells the smell of paste-always pleasant in his nostrils, because of its association with many sticky achievements in the way of malicious mischief- why, the boy sees those animals, and those assorted colored people in regal clothes, just as if they were really there for he sees them with the eye of faith. He would be ungrateful, indeed, if he did not love the circus-poster. All mankind loves the circus, and what circus
SMOKE "GREENBACK" TOBACCO
"HUNG UP WITH THE STARCH OUT
Reproduced by permission of Currier & Ives.
Be and After" Poster.
ever rose to the glorious promise of its posters?
But it was not only the circus-poster that took hold on the heart of the country-folk of remote regions. Although the fondness for pictures was general in man, woman, and child, it was not quite openly avowed. Certain old Puritanical traditions moved the
people to look upon such home decorations as idle vanities; and even had this prejudice been less general the sources of artistic supply were meagre in the extreme. Therefore the crude and costly printed posters of the circus, the travelling juggler, the Indian herb-doctor, the horsedealer, and, more often than the rest, the gaudy lithographs advertising agricultural implements and patent medicines, were welcome in the little towns and at the lonely cross-roads. They were not often allowed in the house; but their utilitarian character gave them a sort of right to a place on the walls of the barn; and it was here that the boys and the hired men between them would set up an art-gallery which was never quite complete until a sheet of considerable size was skilfully reft from the pictured pageant on the board fence.
There is something pitiful in this attempt to satisfy a natural appetite with the very lowest forms of pictorial artifice; and a serious mischief sprang from
HOWL AWAY YOU'LL HAVE TO SCATTER BEFORE DAWN
Drawn by Matt Morgan for the Strobridge Lithograph Company.
A Type of an Early Class Interesting and Truthful as Pictures yet Ineffective as Posters.
Drawn by Robert Joste.
Published by the Metropolitan
Drawn by William H. Crane. Published by A. S. Seer.
it in the damper it put on any development or progress in the art of poster designs. It became an understood thing that the general public would not have anything better than the flashy and ill-executed prints to which they had grown accustomed; and year after year the same old pictorial horrors were scattered broadcast in city and country. This pernicious example had an influence on a class of producers who should have been above the half-superstitious folly. The theatrical managers caught the idea; and although the establishment of the lithographic art in
this country gave them facilities which they had never had before, they stuck to the primitive system of printing from roughly engraved wood-blocks, superimposing one cross-hatching of color upon another; the result attained being perhaps more hideous and incoherent than anything which could be done in any other way of color-printing.
This absurd tradition practically checked all advance in poster designing until a score of years ago; and so far
"Stock" posters are made on speculation by the manufacturers and sold as often as called for, the name of the star being inserted.
WHEN FOUND MAKE A NOTE ONT
Drawn by Robert Joste for the Metropolitan Print. Company. An Example of the Coarsest Wood-engraved Theatrical Poster.
as the theatrical people were concerned it is more than doubtful whether they would ever have got out of the rut they had got into, if it had not been that the commercial people crowded them out of it. I do not wish to imply that there were no exceptions to the rule of stupidity among the theatrical managers. A few self-respecting managers like Messrs. Palmer and Abbey and the late Lester Wallack made a number of brave and intelligent attempts to find graceful and dignified forms of pictorial advertising. But for the most part our actors and actresses allowed themselves
Drawn by Joseph Baker for the Forbes Lithograph Company in 1879.
An Example of the Extremely Finished Lithographic Theatrical Poster. (Interesting also as being the first poster ever produced representing Jefferson in character.)
to be portrayed on the bill-boards in a medium so grossly and unnecessarily offensive to good taste that the meanest mountebank might have blushed to find himself so set before the world. So dead was the poster-making art that serious dramatic and lyric artists had not even the resource of tasteful and appropriate decoration for their public announcements, but were obliged to use plain type-and type of designs of half a century old. It was at this point that the Genius of Patent Medicine came to the relief of Histrionic Art.
Up to this time the Patent Medicine