Thursday, December 11, 2008

Santa Claus in Magazines

Regardless of who wrote it, it is undisputed that "An Account of a Visit From Saint Nicholas" was first published in a newspaper The Troy Sentinal, in 1823 and is responsible for the way we view the number one resident of the north pole today. The first national appearance of this poem appeared in the rare first volume of Samuel Atkinson's Casket in 1826 published in Philadelphia. Atkinson also published the Saturday Evening Post, then a weekly newspaper with some literary content.

I've only run across this magazine on one occasion, at one of my favorite bookstores, DeWolfe and Wood, in Alfred, Maine twenty or so years ago while visiting my daughter at summer camp. In the days before the internet, it was great fun to visit as many old bookstores as possible to find untold treasures. Unfortunately, today it's just not worth the effort. Anyhow, here's the page I happened upon after perusing the volume I was so happy to obtain for a pittance of its true value (the volume also contains a rare and very early engraving of the White House).

From the standpoint of illustration, the earliest image of Santa I've found comes from the first issue of the 1841 Dollar Magazine. As you can see, the illustrator had undoubtedly read the poem. (though he got the holiday mixed up!)

The popular impression today is that the rotund, pipe-smoking appearance of St. Nick was first created by the renowned illustrator Thomas Nast in the widely circulated Harper's Weekly in 1863. Pictures usually don't lie. Take a look and see what you think.

No doubt Nast was a great and extremely important illustrator and political cartoonist, nor am I advocating that he plaigarized the image. Nast was, indeed, the father of political cartooning and is responsible for the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant (which also first appeared in Harper's Weekly) among many other iconic images.

The favorite Nast item in my collection is an obscure 1859 children's magazine Little Pig Monthly, almost completely illustrated by the 19 year old artist. This is a very rare and early example of the use of color on a magazine cover.

So that's the holiday magazine blog for today. Merry Chrstmas (Kwanzaa, Chanukah and Ramadan) to all - and to all a good night!

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