Upcoming Exhibition on McLoughlin Brothers is “Radiant with Color & Art”

From December 6 through February 3, highlights from AAS’s stunning collection of some three thousand McLoughlin Brothers books, games, and artwork will be out of the stacks and on display at the famous Grolier Club (47 E. 60th St., New York) in the exhibition Radiant with Color & Art: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858–1920. The exhibition, which draws on the combined forty years’ experience at AAS of Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes and myself, will focus on the long-neglected history of the New York publishing house that gave us mass-produced picture books nearly a century before Golden Books. With the firm’s investment in cutting-edge technologies like steam-powered color printing, its sophisticated marketing strategies targeting every possible constituency through a range of price points (from one cent to three dollars), and its sharp use of artistic talent like Thomas Nast to popularize visual icons such as Santa Claus, the tale of McLoughlin Brothers is quintessentially an American story of ingenuity, creativity, and risk.

Young America’s A.B.C. and Pretty Picture Book,” 1899-1900

This exhibition will illuminate the international connections in the late nineteenth-century picture book market, including the American and European picture books that McLoughlin aggressively copied, produced, and sold at a fraction of the cost of the foreign original. It will also tell the little-known story of McLoughlin’s collaboration with fellow New York publisher D. Appleton & Company to manufacture Spanish-language picture books for the Latin American market. Non-book material, including paper dolls, board games, and blocks, will also be included in the exhibition to show how the McLoughlin brothers—John Jr. (1827–1905) and Edmund (1833/4–1889)—widened their market and promoted their products over time.

Sarah Noble Ives, “Cinderella,” for McLoughlin Brothers, ca. 1912
Disorderly Girl,” ca. 1867

Besides documenting the history of this understudied firm, Radiant with Color & Art will be a feast for the intellect and the eye. Proof copies, uncut sheets, mock ups, and illustrator’s drafts—many never before exhibited—will be used to explain the book-making process, the progression of the firm, and the history of the children’s book business in general. Working in consultation with AAS Conservator Babette Gehnrich, Lauren and I have carefully selected two hundred exhibition pieces (most of them from the AAS collections) for their relevance, rarity, condition, and presentation. The great proscenium and pop-up books from the end of the century will be featured alongside paper dolls depicting subjects as diverse as Uncle Tom’s Cabin and suffragettes, as well as artwork by professional women artists such as Sarah Noble Ives and Frances Bassett Comstock, who included McLoughlin Brothers among their many commissions.

Christmas Alphabet,” 1899

A full-color exhibition catalog is now in press and will provide permanent documentation (and eye candy!) for this marvelous show; it will be available for purchase at the Grolier Club, at AAS, or through Oak Knoll Books at the affordable price of $30. (Keep an eye out for information about the release of the catalog.)

AAS has also just released a set of holiday greeting cards featuring images from McLoughlin Brothers’ rich Christmas-related works to coincide with the exhibition. These are now available for purchase and are the perfect greeting for any book-loving family and friends.

Most importantly, come to New York and discover McLoughlin in person!

Published by

Laura Wasowicz

Curator of Children's Literature, American Antiquarian Society

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