In the 19th century, American readers embraced the captivating nature of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and other fiction made for children. New printing techniques made brilliantly colored illustrations possible as never before and offered an exciting complement to children’s books.
A New York City publishing firm, the McLoughlin Brothers, Inc., especially inspired readers young and old with scripted fantasy and printed artistry. The company was a successful manufacturer of children’s books, games, puzzles, paper dolls, and other printed novelties. One key to their popularity and success was their pioneering use of woodblocks and color printing techniques. Printers engraved the woodblocks with images that later would be colored and sent through a printing press to create intricate illustrations.
In 1989, antiquarian firm Justin G. Schiller, Ltd. donated the largest and most comprehensive collection of McLoughlin Brothers woodblocks to New-York Historical Society’s Patricia D. Klingenstein Library. The collection includes over 1,000 woodblocks, many from the early- to mid-nineteenth century.
A new finding aid, which describes and organizes the collection, is available for researchers interested in learning more about the McLoughlin Brothers woodblocks. Highlights from this charming and intriguing collection are included below. Please use this link to learn more about how to conduct research at the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library.
This multiple-block engraving (above left) by Edward P. Cogger features the artist’s watercolor renderings on the back of each corresponding woodblock (above right). The watercolor adds an interesting aesthetic component, as it is not necessary in the printing process. Printers segmented larger engravings such as this one into multiple blocks and then connected them with wooden dowels to evenly distribute the pressure from the printing press.
Edward P. Cogger was an engraver who worked for McLoughlin Brothers in the 1850s and, presumably, until his death in 1902. The company employed as many as 75 artists between 1870 and 1915, both full-time and freelance. Artists rarely received credit for their work before 1865, though many engraved their initials or names into their illustrations.
McLoughlin Brothers published a collection of books called the Young America Series beginning as early as 1867. Titles in this series included The Good-Natured Boy, The Disorderly Girl, and The Noisy Boy. The two pictures above depict a colorful printing of “The Noisy Boy” playing a horn alongside a short song from an 1870 edition.
These are two woodblocks in the New-York Historical collection that printers worked with to create the above images in The Noisy Boy. The printers used chromoxylography, a color relief printing process, to print the multicolored images often featured in the Young America Series. A printer would ink the woodblock on the left with red and the woodblock on the right with black. One page passed through a printing press under both blocks to create the final illustration.
Engravers often added talcum powder to their wood engravings to check the details of their carvings. The white powder filled in the negative space and showed the fine lines in the woodcut. Several of the McLoughlin Brothers woodblocks in the collection at New-York Historical are still marked with talcum powder, such as this one from Three Good Friends.
McLoughlin Brothers reused the woodblock engraving of the two young girls for another publication years later. Comic illustrator Justin H. Howard copied the image onto stone and incorporated it into the title page for The Three Good Friends. Printers rendered this title page using chromolithography, a chemical color printing process, for the edition pictured above from the 1880s. Howard produced many illustrations for the McLoughlin Brothers in the mid-19th century; often scenes of great action and humor.
Crystal Toscano is Reference Librarian for the Printed Collections at the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library at the New-York Historical Society.
Hewes, Lauren B., Layla Haveles Hopper, Justin G. Schiller, and Laura E. Wasowicz. Radiant with color & art : McLoughlin Brothers and the business of picture books, 1858-1920. Worchester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 2017. Z286.C48 R33 2017