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Radiant with Color & Art: The holiday exhibition at the Grolier Club
Young America’s A.B.C. and Pretty Picture Book (New York: McLoughlin Brothers, 1899-1900). American Antiquarian Society, Gift of Herbert H. Hosmer, 1978.


NEW YORK, NY.- The Grolier Club is heralding the Winter holiday with the exhibition Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920. More than 200 vibrantly colored children’s illustrated picture books, drawings, watercolors, and ephemera are on view from December 6, 2017 to February 3, 2018.

The exhibition focuses on the accomplishments and technological innovations of McLoughlin Brothers, the influential late 19th century children’s book publishing firm. Rising from the gritty printing district of lower Manhattan, the McLoughlin Brothers embraced cutting edge technologies like chromolithography, creative branding techniques, and competitive business tactics.

Based upon the impressive collections of the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), a national research library and learned society located in Worcester, MA, the exhibition documents the variety of juvenile imprints created by the McLoughlin Brothers, and surveys the broad influence and appeal of this under-studied publisher of illustrated children’s literature.

Drawn from the impressive archive of McLoughlin Brothers artwork and picture books held at the AAS, the exhibition delves into the early history of American juvenile literature publishing during the period from 1858 to 1920, using the production and merchandising practices of McLoughlin Brothers to explore the serious business of entertainment for children.

Radiant with Color & Art is co-curated by Laura Wasowicz, AAS curator of children’s literature and Lauren Hewes, AAS Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts. The exhibition is funded in part with support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Founded by John McLoughlin, Jr. (1827-1905) and Edmund McLoughlin (1833/4-1889) the firm was one of the first to concentrate exclusively in works for children producing illustrated books as well as printed paper dolls, toy soldiers, games, and valentines. They created 1,000 titles in about 150 series between 1860 and 1890.

The McLoughlin Brothers reached both low and middle-class customers by diversifying their stock and offering various price points for their products ranging from one penny to a dollar per book. Through strategic partnerships and collaborations they expanded their distribution nationwide. They also repurposed their imprints to cross promote and sell other items such as clothing and food and worked with D. Appleton and Company to create Spanish language imprints that were sold throughout Latin America.

The publishing house was also an innovator in printing technology, exploiting a new process of printing from relief etched zinc plates called chromotypography, and later mastering the intricacies of lithographic printing in color. By 1905, they were credited with having one of the largest lithographic printing establishments in the country with a Brooklyn-based factory stretching over five acres. The firm printed books on all subjects, drawing from both European and American sources to produce everything from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, to books on popular culture and holiday-themed titles. On exhibit is an 1889 book, A.B.C of Objects for Home and School. Kindergarten First Book, that emphasized the importance of literacy by featuring a mother reading with a child on the cover. It was a wordless book and was distributed to schools around the world.

Noteworthy in the books are depictions of humor, race and social mores that provide a unique view into the cultural norms of the times in which they were created. Additionally, the McLoughlin Brothers were well known for their portrayals of Cinderella and—appropriately for the holidays—Santa Claus.

The publishers hired cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1869 to create a picture book version of the poem The Night Before Christmas. Recognizing the poem’s potential, the firm periodically issued updated versions featuring modern toys and style of dress and created branded products to accompany the books. On display is the original watercolor for the cover design of an 1888 edition of The Night Before Christmas, part of the firm’s art archive used for consultation during the design and republishing process.

Cinderella was a mainstay of the McLoughlinn Brothers. With its simple design and appealing hand-colored illustrations, the ca. 1858 Cinderella, one of the first titles issued by the publishers after they formed their partnership, looked like countless other picture books for children issued in the 1840s and 1850s. Over forty years later, the firm was still publishing the fairytale, but Cinderella was given a new look as seen in the ca. 1912 watercolor design by New York artist Sarah Noble Ives.

The McLoughlin Brothers had harnessed the talents of popular 19th century American illustrators, including Thomas Nast, Sarah Noble Ives, Justin H. Howard, Ida Waugh, and Richard André to herald the dawn of the fin de siècle “picture book beautiful.”





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