Drawn On Stone [Political Prints from the 1830's and 1840's]

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arly nineteenth-century Americans saw very few graphic images in their everyday lives compared to the cacophony we are bombarded with in contemporary society.   The middle and upper classes owned illustrated books, but few newspapers or magazines of the time included pictures.  Although photographs were introduced in 1839, the technology to reproduce them on the printed page did not exist until the end of the century.   Instead, images were reproduced by engraving or woodcut, printing processes that were labor intensive and relatively expensive.  Political cartoons produced this way were printed on single sheets called broadsides and sold individually, not as part of a newspaper.

n the first decades of the nineteenth century, satirical broadsides were very rare in the United States. Fewer than five different political cartoons were published in any given year.  That number increased dramatically in the 1830s and 1840s.  At the peak of their popularity during the election year of 1844, more than seventy-five political caricatures were produced.  The increase can be

attributed to the political turmoil of the Jacksonian era when greater numbers of Americans became involved in the political process and to the adoption of a new printing method called lithography.

ithography was introduced to the United States in 1819 and used commercially starting in the mid-1820s.  It was simpler and less expensive than engraving or woodcut.   Entrepreneurs like H.R. Robinson and the artists who drew cartoons for him capitalized on the relative ease and speed of the new process, which allowed the artists to draw directly onto the stone and did not require interpretation by an engraver.    The controversy that surrounded the policies of President Andrew Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, created an audience hungry for the satirical prints they produced using the new technology.    That audience continued to grow throughout the period, as more and more men were given the vote and political parties began to organize on a national scale.