Thomas Nast. “Giving U.S. Hail Columbia.” From Harper’s Weekly. New York, May 4, 1878. Front cover. Wood engraving. Very good condition.
An original antique print by Thomas Nast from Harper’s Weekly, a New York based newspaper in the last half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. In weekly issues, Harper’s presented a mixture of news stories, gossip, poetry, and most notably, wood-engraved illustrations. These pictures remain one of the best sources for lively, informative images of nineteenth-century America. Major artists were employed to do drawings and among the most famous of these illustrators was Thomas Nast, ‘father of American political cartooning.’
Thomas Nast was born in 1840 and emigrated to the United States in 1846 with his family from Bavaria. His father, a musician, had enrolled the artistically precocious child in an art school by age 12. Three years later he was forced to leave his training to help support the family, fortunately gaining work as an illustrator at Frank Leslie’s Weekly. Five years later Nast had traveled abroad to cover the Heenan-Sayers fight, later joining Garibaldi’s forces in Italy as a war correspondent. He had been employed by the New York Illustrated News for these assignments, but by early 1862 he had become a war correspondent again, this time for Harper’s Weekly. His patriotic themes created such attention that President Lincoln cited Nast as his “best recruiting sergeant”.
During the first 25 years following the war between the states, Nast became the most significant illustrator of American political and social issues. His pointed cartoons exerted a great impact on public opinion. Every presidential candidate to gain his support won and his stature increased with the successful campaign in 1870-71 to bring down “Boss” Tweed of New York’s corrupt Tammany Hall and his political machine. More than a mere cartoonist, Nast was an innovator of images, popularizing or instituting many now familiar subjects such as the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey, John Bull, Uncle Sam, and Columbia. And most famously, Nast’s Santa Claus serves as our present day jolly elf. Harper’s Weekly was Nast’s principal forum, and so these prints hold a significant place in our American past.