Radiant With Color

Illustrators at McLoughlin Brothers

Over the Hills, a Collection of Juvenile Pictures in Colors

Illustrators at McLoughlin Brothers

For decades, McLoughlin Brothers maintained a large stable of artists, using their varied and distinct talents to illustrate hundreds of picture books. According to the company’s history, seventy-five artists were employed at the firm’s Brooklyn factory from 1870 to about 1915. Some artists appear to have been retained as staff, and others worked freelance. In the earliest days of the firm, McLoughlin Brothers rarely identified the individuals who created the images inside its books, giving no credit on the covers or title pages of its products. Some engravers cannily included their names in their wood-engraved blocks, but before about 1865, the names of the artists who designed the illustrations were usually unknown.

Around the time of the American Civil War, McLoughlin Brothers began to print the names of a few illustrators on the covers of its books. Men like Justin H. Howard (fl. 1856–1890) and Thomas Nast (1840–1902) had already gained reputations for their visual contributions to both comic periodicals and the illustrated press and would have been known to a broad segment of American society. Brandishing the names of artists like Nast, who was extremely well known in his lifetime, added caché to McLoughlin Brothers books for children. The relationship must have been beneficial for both parties, as Howard and Nast both had multiyear relationships with McLoughlin Brothers. Eventually, many women illustrators would be employed by the firm as well, and several of these, including Sarah Noble Ives (1864–1944) and Ida Waugh (1846–1919), would be credited for their contributions.

 “Mother! Oh, if She Were Only Here,” from The Story of Teddy the Bear

The staff artists at McLoughlin Brothers were kept busy producing creative and innovative illustrations for a wide variety of publications, from Mother Goose to books with patriotic themes. They also did a lot of copy work. McLoughlin Brothers, like many book publishers of the day, copied hundreds of titles by others and reissued them under its own imprint, usually undercutting its competition in the process. The portion of the firm’s art archive preserved at the American Antiquarian Society holds over 1,500 examples of watercolors and drawings, including exact copies of works by other illustrators and original sketches. Considered within the larger scope of the firm’s published output, this collection offers a unique perspective on the bookmaking practices of the company. Some of the drawings appear not to have been used. Were the unpublished watercolors and drawings retained for future projects? Does the high number of drawings of Santa Claus and biblical scenes indicate that these topics were constantly revisited for book production ideas? Although the answers to these questions may never be known with certainty, the fact that the illustrations themselves were carefully filed and preserved indicates that they were considered to be a valuable asset by the McLoughlin brothers.


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