Radiant With Color

The Golden Age of McLoughlin Brothers

The New Pretty Village Toy. Church Set

The Golden Age of McLoughlin Brothers

Starting around 1880, McLoughlin Brothers entered an era of production and expansion that made it the largest and arguably the most significant distributor of children’s literature in the nation. Its extensive factory in Brooklyn, which opened around 1870, reached capacity during this time, employing over 850 people and shipping books and games all over the world. The elaborate, colorful picture books and toys from this period are highly sought by collectors today and reflect a fin-de-siècle and early-twentieth-century blossoming of design and innovation. The material produced during the golden age of the firm surpassed in every way the modest, paper-bound editions from the first decade of McLoughlin Brothers. It was often showier, more complex, contained more color, and used a wider variety of illustration styles.


The firm’s product line expanded dramatically in this era. Steady sellers like Mother Goose and Struwwelpeter stories remained on the list of titles, but they were joined by many new offerings of innovative picture books, including flap books and pop-up books, as well as dozens of new toys and games for children. In 1908, McLoughlin Brothers crowed about its success in an advertisement designed to attract more wholesalers to carry and distribute its products: “One jealous thought we hold, and that is that our stock on every count, be it price, quality or attractiveness, shall always remain, what it always has been, second to none. The imprint of McLoughlin Brothers must continue on the best juvenile literature. The best artists, the best taste, the best material, the best processes, the best workmanship—all these factors conspire to impart strength of character to the line and endow it with a personal magnetism.”

Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper

McLoughlin Brothers products were everywhere in this period. They turned up in school curriculums, in homes for underprivileged youth, in middle-class parlors, and among the elites. Market saturation and domination, a long-term goal of John McLoughlin Jr., was very nearly reached when McLoughlin Brothers’ publishing empire was at its peak. As a result, because it became the most successful firm in the juvenile trade, the tables turned and McLoughlin Brothers products and technology started to be pirated by other publishers in America and Europe. A flurry of litigation ensued as McLoughlin executives sought to defend their long list of patents and copyright filings. Bookseller and stationer trade periodicals of this era are filled with news of court cases, settlements, and the legal wrangling of McLoughlin Brothers.


Even though the McLoughlin brothers were ahead of the curve when they decided in the 1850s to focus exclusively on publications for children, by the 1880s they were certainly not alone in doing so. Many distinguished publishers in this era expanded and improved their offerings for young readers. It made good business sense because that segment of the market was growing quickly. Writing in 1886, publisher Charles B. Shepard summed it up, “In the literature of this last quarter of the nineteenth century the rising generation is certainly not forgotten, and it seems to me to be one of the best signs of social progress that the making of books for our boys and girls has come to be so important a branch of the publishers’ business, and to absorb so large a part of the best literary and artistic labor of the country.”

 

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The Golden Age of McLoughlin Brothers