Saturday, November 8, 2014

L. Prang & Co. shape book from1863--"Red Riding Hood"

Polish-born lithographer and publisher Louis Prang (1824-1909) is generally regarded as (Link Alert) the man who introduced the Christmas card to the United States.  I recently bought a copy of his 1863 shape book, Red Riding Hood, at a bargain price you may not believe, so I won't cite it.  Let's just say it didn't break even a bank as small as mine.  My copy has some flaws--most notably, a detached cover and a missing title (originally situated under Little Riding Hood's feet)--but who's complaining?  I go with's Bev's theory regarding the missing title--i.e., that a previous owner (in all probability, a little girl) removed it so she could use the cover as a paper doll!  Makes sense.

Scans follow, all made with NCH PhotoPad software, a great program for adding and subtracting layers of effects, and for fine-tuning the color "curve," as NCH terms it.  (Not so great for centering images, cloning, or image-stitching).  The arrangement of images around the text, and the way the images illustrate same, is profoundly like a comic book, even if we're not looking at rectangular panels with borders.  At this point in my comic history research, I'm convinced the comic books I read and loved as a kid owe their existence to pre-1900 children's publications--shape books, primers, chap books, tracts, etc.  Of course, I would never have imagined such a connection prior to 1) finding out about these amazing artifacts in the first place and 2) closely studying them.  The notion of 19th century comic books seems less fantastic the more we study evidence like the following.  As always, nothing replaces direct contact with the cultural artifacts of the past.  The greatest virtue of artifacts is the way their tell their story (and tell of their era and its inhabitants) directly.

On to Louis Prang's marvelous Red Riding Hood shape book of 1863:

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