Leslie Drawings

The pictures of the Lincoln Home as portrayed in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper are very important. But what was the history behind this new generation of newspaper? Why were they so special? And how were they produced? Before the advent of the illustrated daily/weekly, most newspapers were devoid of any kind of images. The Illustrated London News was the first in a new generation of information journals. Founded in 1842 by Herbert Ingram, it offered readers not only timely and accurate information (relatively speaking), but also visual representations of people, places, and events throughout the world. It was an expensive undertaking, requiring an enormous staff, in a radically fluctuating market.

Frank Leslie was born Henry Carter in Ipswich, Suffolk, England in 1821, and quickly displayed a talent for art. His skills, however, were not quite appreciated by his parents, who wished him to join the family glove-making business. To avoid their disapproval, he sold drawings to the Illustrated London News under the adopted name Frank Leslie, which he would ultimately adopt legally. Finally abandoning the family business, he joined the staff at the Illustrated, who, for one, did appreciate his talents. After serving as an illustrator, and ultimately as superintendent of the engraving department, he immigrated to America in 1848. He brought the idea of the illustrated newspaper, and a new process of light-on-shade engraving, with him.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper was founded in 1855, the first of its kind in the United States. To keep his new magazine profitable in lean times, Leslie pioneered the art now known as sensationalism. The head of Leslie's art department, Joseph Becker, recalled that the unofficial company motto seemed to be "Never shoot over the heads of the people." Journalism historian Frank Luther Mott described the paper this way: "(Leslie's) was never profound and seldom very stimulating; but it was nearly always passably amusing, and in its earlier years especially it presented a vivid and lively picture of the American scene."

Leslie's primary competitor was the ubiquitous Harper's Weekly Magazine. In 1817, James and John Harper opened a small print shop. By 1833, they had been joined by their brothers Joseph, Wesley, and Fletcher, forming the Harpers & Brothers publishing company.

In 1857, the brothers saw the growing demand for illustrated papers, and published the first edition of Harper's Weekly. Circulation quickly exceeded 100,000 copies on a regular basis, and climbed to 300,000 at times during the Civil War. While most of the news events were culled from New York newspapers, Harper's staff consisted of both artists and correspondents.

The key to a profitable newspaper business, then as now, was quality illustrations, produced quickly. To achieve this goal, Harper's dispatched their illustrators to the front lines, along with the reporters. The artists would record their impressions, and then dispatch the artwork back to Harper's for publication.

Leslie's and Harper's used the same techniques to produce their papers. Images were divided into separate 2" squares, then divided up among the staff woodcarvers. Each woodcarver would work on his assigned section; when finished, the blocks were re-assembled with screws, to form the original image. The completed block would then be used as a "master", to print the image onto every issue of the paper.

As could be predicted, the popularity of illustrated papers waned with the introduction of photographic transfer techniques. Outmoded by cheaper, faster, better, Leslie's last issue was produced in 1902, while Harper's finally closed its doors in 1916.

Author: John Popolis

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Last updated: April 10, 2015

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