Chromo ChristmasDecember 27, 2017

Christmas cards, at one time, were the postmaster’s dilemma. Cards arrived in massive quantities and kept the postman busy from November until Christmas. In today’s digital world those cards are probably a delight, viewed as job security in the ever changing digital age. How did the Christmas card come into being?

Most of us remember those early school years when we unpacked our Prang watercolor set, in the black metal case, on the first day of school.
Little did we know at that time, that those watercolor sets were named for Mr. Louis Prang. Nor did we know that Louis Prang was the man credited with bringing the Christmas card to America, by a process called Chromo-lithography. Archive research reveals an article in:
The article titled “Popularizing Artby James Parton records the history of lithography as an accidental discovery in about 1793. Alois Senefelder was trying to make a weekly wash list for his washerwoman. He had no paper or liquid ink with which to write that day and had gathered limestone rocks for another project. Creative thinking led him to use water to wet the stone and then he tried writing on it with his grease pencil. After doing this, he decided to use diluted aqua-fortis(nitric acid)to pour over the stone and this made the letters stand out in relief. By covering his letters with his inking pad, Alois found that the film of water kept the oily printer’s ink from staining the stone but allowed the letters to stay inked. He then applied pressure to the stone and was able to imprint the letters.


A description of lithography is contained in this article with a detailed version of how the process is done.

p. 349
In 1843 Sir Henry Cole, the curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum was being inundated with Christmas letters. In England, at that time, it was considered bad manners to receive a letter and not respond in kind. Sir Henry thought of a clever plan, as we see in the Smithsonian Magazine article dated December 1975. He hired J.C. Horsley to design a Christmas postcard and had it printed so it could be mailed in response to his letters.
Thus the very first Christmas card was invented. Soon it was all the rage in England. The early Christmas cards were in postcard form and many were very whimsical in nature.

Research brings us back to Louis Prang. How did Louis Prang fit into the Christmas card history?
Louis Prang began his craft as a young man in Prussia working in his father’s calico factory. Louis was detailed in his use of art and color because his work required printing fabric that ladies were going to wear. Later after fleeing Prussia he arrived in America and eventually settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The German element in the United States, 1909:


In Massachusetts, Louis opened a small printing company only to be thwarted by the beginning of the Civil War. However, a friend convinced him to print maps of the battles so that the general public would know where the war was being fought.

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “The army map of Georgia” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1864.

In the meantime Louis Prang was perfecting his craftsmanship.The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Birthday, New Year and text cards depicting flowers, butterflies, bees, berries and fall foliage.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1880.



Suddenly it made sense for him to market his cards in the United States.
Christmas cards became popular and collectible items.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Christmas cards depicting animals celebrating Christmas, stockings, food, mistletoe and a decorative design.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1884.




While Louis was perfecting his chromo-lithography he also began to work on reproducing artists paintings.


Louis Prang was a forward thinking entrepreneur and a firm believer in art education. He was largely responsible for art taught in schools. Many art books were published because of him and he promoted art into the everyday household with his chromo-lithographs. There was a large debate, which occurred in the publications of that time, over the printing of original works by chromo-lithography. Many arguments happened over the validity of printing “fake” art. Louis was mindful of the fact that it was original work that he was replicating and permission needed to be granted. He would meet the artist and then make arrangements to print the copies. The author of this article had this to say regarding that subject:

In the early 1900’s, a group of brothers named Hall started their own postcard printing company in Kansas City. Soon the cards evolved to a new format that was folded and placed in an envelope to mail. This allowed the public to write a little more on the yearly greetings. Hallmark was in the market! Around the same time, a young Polish immigrant named Jacob Sapirstein began selling greeting cards in Ohio. This was the beginning of the American Greetings Corporation. Soon cards were being marketed for all the major holidays and a few invented ones.

An article appears in Literary Digest November 7, 1936 regarding the sale of Christmas cards.

Happy Holidays from the Archives!

Read the entire articles:

Popularizing Art
by James Parton
The Atlantic Monthly
March 1869
pages 348-357

Literary Digest
Vol. 122 No. 19
November 7, 1936
p. 42

Postmen can blame it on Old Horsley
by Patrick Ryan
December 1975
Vol. 6 No. 9
p. 144

Other sources consulted:

Freeman, Larry. Louis Prang: color lithographer. Giant of a man. Century House Inc., 1971.

Fall Fishing November 7, 2016

Warm fall days and cool nights prepare us for the cold of winter and allow us time to enjoy nature before the snowfall. If you love the outdoors and enjoy the quiet solitude of fishing, the following poem is sure to resonate with you. F. Colburn Clarke was an artist and illustrator, and the naturalist in him is evident in the little illustrations alongside his verse. He also was an early photographer. This was his first literary work which was published by Scribner’s Magazine.


Scribner’s Magazine
Vol. XXVI No.3
September 1899

Wichita BillSeptember 2, 2016

On April 22, 1889 he rode an iron gray bronco from Caldwell, Kansas into the Oklahoma territory as an adventure, joining the 20,000 others who became known as the “Sooners”. He later would paint a picture called “The Run” immortalizing the race for land. At the time, he was a young man who had not discovered himself yet. He said he gave up his claim to a family he felt needed the land more then he did and went on to Oklahoma City to see it build up before his eyes. His name was John Noble.
The article above tells the story of John Noble who at age 14 was herding sheep on his father’s ranch near Wichita, Kansas. As a sheep herder he had plenty of time to practice his love of drawing while watching the sheep. As John got older he was given the opportunity to illustrate the stories written by David B. Leahy. David Leahy had many of his stories printed in the newspapers. John recalls in this article, that Mr. Leahy at that time was known to friends in Wichita as “Dynamite Dave”. As time went on, John picked up other mediums and began experimenting with pastels. Sometime around the age of 18, John Noble was given the opportunity by his parents to go to the Eden Park Art School in Cincinnati. This experience lasted about half of a year and then he returned to Kansas. After returning he moved around a lot and became known in his own words as “Wichita Bill”. It was during this time that he tells of his encounters with Wild Bill Hickok and Bob Dalton.

wild billbill's gun

Included in this article is the famous story about Carry Nation hurling rocks at his painting called “Cleopatra at the Bath”.
carry nation crop
In the spring of 1897, John scraped together enough money to go to Paris to study art. This was upon the recommendation, of his friend Victor Murdock, who challenged him to become a real artist.
paris trip
In Paris, he was known for wearing his cattleman’s hat and a necktie made of rattlesnake skin. He earned quite a reputation there with his six-shooter on his hip and not all of it was good. According to him, the people of Paris called him a “Kansas Cyclone”. He took up residence in Brittany and there he began some of his most famous paintings of ships and the horses that launched the boats.

Towing the Boat Ashore

“John Noble, 20th Century.” Christie’s Auctions & Private Sales. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Aug. 2016

It is also where his painting “The Benediction of the Sea” was made. This painting showed the Breton peasants marching to the sea to bless it and give thanks for their lives.
Paris show
John eventually married and had children. When the war came he moved his family to London and was given the opportunity of having a show at which he earned $14,000.00. As a result of his success he was able to return to America.
LondonLondon success

Upon returning to the United States, he settled his family on the East Coast. There he continued with his success.
untitled004 (2)

Researching John Noble brings to light that he struggled with alcoholism and eventually died while being treated for his addiction. It appears that this interview was done a few years before his death. His legacy of painting was carried on through his son John A. Noble, who is known for his paintings of great sailing ships on the East Coast. John A. Noble, is the sole reason for the Noble Maritime Collection.

The interview with John Noble is found in:

The American Magazine
Vol.CIV No.2
August 1927
page 34-35, 66-70


Re-“cycling” America July 15, 2016

Summertime is great for riding bicycles. In 1935 bicycles were making the news. The bicycle had been reinvented again with actual brakes and even rubber tires. Although the inventions of automobiles, trains, and planes were used for long distance travel the bicycle was still a primary mode of transportation. title of bicycle article

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Today we can find a website called The League of American Bicyclists. This is the modern version of the original American Wheelmen club.

With the renewed interest in bicycles many young boys were elevated to entrepreneurs as they thought of ways to use their bicycles for monetary gain.

boys jobs2nd part of jobs

Bicycle Basketball Bicycle Basketball

The new bicycles even inspired exciting sports!

To read this short article please ask at the Reference Desk.

Popular Mechanics
January 1935
Vol.63 No.1
pg. 62


Library LoveApril 15, 2016

In celebration of National Library Week we would like to touch on all reminders of the joy of reading. Over the years many writer’s have expressed their love of books with paintings or with poetry. Take a moment to let this poem paint a picture in your mind.

The following poem was found in Scribner’s Magazine.


Scribner’s Magazine
Vol. XLIX No. 2
February 1911


Boring Books April 15, 2016

This week was National Library Week.
So in celebration of our libraries the following posts in the next few days will give you a glimpse into the history of libraries and the people who played important parts in preserving books and information so that the human race could progress with knowledge into the future.

To start off the articles:

Limerick info

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The Century Magazine
Vol. LXXXVI No. 5
September 1913


“Say Cheese”March 4, 2016

Cartoon artists tend to convey thought-provoking information about our society. At first glance, a cartoon will make us laugh and we think nothing of it. However, with humor, the idea or information directed at us stays with us visually making it easier to understand the cartoonist’s perspective of the situation.

Clifton Meek was the artist of this particular cartoon. Information about Clifton can be viewed at

This cartoon was found in:

Harper’s Magazine
October 1916



Mutt & Jeff February 22, 2016

In May 1916 The American Magazine published an article under the section Interesting People entitled “A Captain of Comic Industry”. The article was about Bud Fisher. Bud Fisher was in the business of making people laugh. He was the creator of the cartoon Mutt and Jeff. His real name was actually Harry Conway Fisher.
Bud started drawing cartoons for 50 cents each. He sold these to a San Francisco tradesman who used them to attract customers. He later was employed by the Chronicle and was paid $15.00 a week.



Mutt and Jeff

As the saying goes “Laughter is the Best Medicine” and Bud Fisher was laughing his way to the bank. Consider too, there were no computers or copiers in the early 1900’s. He drew his cartoons by hand each and every time. It is stated in this article that Bud Fisher did not have formal training in drawing.

Bud Fisher
The American Magazine
May 1916
Vol. LXXXI No. 5
“Bud Fisher” by John N. Wheeler
pp. 48-50


Skate Sailing January 7, 2016

Strap on your skates and grab a sail. In December 1914 a new sport was reported by the magazine Country Life In America .


Ice skating was advancing to Skate Sailing. It was reported that you did not have to be a skilled skater to enjoy it.people skate sailing

Twenty miles an hour is easily attained.

The writer indicates that of all the plans the triangular sails had immediate success.sail plans

Country Life In America
“The Sport of Skate Sailing” by A. Valle’
Vol. XXVII No. 2
December 1914


Cook’s Choice – December 7, 2015

menu for Nov

Just a sample of what you would eat in 1913.

Good Housekeeping
November 1913
Vol. LVII No. 5


Victory Garden November 04, 2015

In 1917, The Independent Harper’s Weekly printed a chart to help direct citizens on when and how to plant a war garden. These gardens were planted to help with the food shortages brought on by the war. Most of the men and boys were fighting. Food was in great demand.

Are you curious about planting schedules and planting ideas of the time? Research the many publications in the Archives.

The Independent Harper’s Weekly
April 14, 1917
page 132

One article in Popular Mechanics reported that Uncle Sam had 18,000,000 Victory Gardens!
Victory Garden

It even gave a diagram of how a successful Victory Garden would look.


There is a chart to help you measure the rows you will need to plant.

Popular Mechanics
May 1943
Vol. 79 No.5


Going GreenNovember 18, 2015

Obviously the idea of conserving gasoline has been around for a long time. We can solve the excessive use of fuel, carpool, and get exercise with an invention that has been around since 1940.


Popular Mechanics
Vol. 73
January 1940
pg. 53

SeptemberSeptember 11, 2015

Sept. Poem_Page_1Sweet is the voice that calls
From babbling waterfalls
In meadows where the downy seeds are flying;
And soft the breezes blow
And eddying come and go
In faded gardens where the rose is dying.

Among the stubbled corn
The blithe quail pipes at morn,
The merry partridge drums in hidden places,
And glittering insects gleam
Above the reedy stream
Where busy spiders spin their filmy laces.

Sept. Poem_Page_2At eve, cool shadows fall
Across the garden wall,
And on the clustered grapes to purple turning,
And pearly vapors lie
Along the eastern sky
Where the broad harvest-moon is redly burning.

Ah, soon on field and hill
The winds shall whistle chill,
And patriarch swallows call their flocks together
To fly from frost and snow,
And seek for lands where blow
The fairer blossoms of a balmer weather.

The pollen-dusted bees
Search for the honey-lees
That linger in the last flowers of September,
While plaintive mourning doves
Coo sadly to their loves
Of the dead summer they so remember.

The cricket chirps all day,
“O, fairest summer, stay!”
The squirrel eyes askance the chestnuts browning;
The wild-fowl fly afar
Above the foamy bar
And hasten southward ere the skies are frowning.

Now comes a fragrant breeze
Through the dark cedar-trees
And round about my temples fondly lingers,
In gentle playfulness
Like to the soft caress
Bestowed in happier days by loving fingers.

Yet, though a sense of grief
Comes with the falling leaf,
And memory makes the summer doubly pleasant,
In all my autumn dreams
A future summer gleams
Passing the fairest glories of the present!

Source: Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by Harper and Brothers, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Vol. XXXI.–No. 184.–Ee