Working Paper No. 11-04:
Thomas Nast's Illustrated Almanacs, 1871-1875

Author(s):

Ross Davies

Date Posted: January 2011

Availability:
Abstract (below) | Full text (most recent) on SSRN

Abstract:

More than 300 pages of this year’s Green Bag Almanac & Reader are devoted to reproducing in their entirety all five of Thomas Nast’s “Illustrated Almanacs.” From the beginning, Nast’s Almanac was well-received. Positive reviews of the first edition — the full title of which was “Nast’s Illustrated Almanac for 1871” quickly followed the October 1870 announcement in Harper’s Weekly of Nast’s new publishing venture. For example,

     Our American Doré, Mr. Thomas Nast, has made an illustrated almanac which takes the lead of any comic effort before attempted in this country. Those addicted to fits of melancholy should invest twenty-five cents in this laugh-provoking affair.

The contents of the 1871 almanac were indeed interesting and amusing, ranging from a rather violent version of the story of Mary and her lamb to silly historical and Shakespearean vignettes. And they were generously sprinkled with “105 illustrations by Nast” the famous editorial artist, including such gems as a sketch of Elizabeth I in which the Queen bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Punch (that is, the 19th-century English version of the classic, irreverent puppet and cartoon character) and a rendering of Sir Francis Drake as a mustachioed waterfowl. But it was with the second edition — “Nast’s Illustrated Almanac for 1872” — that Nast’s Almanac really hit its stride with respect to both content and marketing. Most importantly, Nast enlisted several famous friends to pro-vide signed works for his almanac, including Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens), Charles Dickens, and Josh Bil-lings (aka Henry Wheeler Shaw, in his time a literary celebrity nearly on a par with Clemens). And Nast drew original illustrations for all of them.