Friday, May 08, 2020

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Puck Magazine Cartoons 1879 - 1890

From the deep, dark mists of time comes a number of great old vintage cartoons/covers from the very first successful humor magazine, Puck! Named after the Shakespearean "Midsummer's Night Dream" character, with the motto "What Fools These Mortals Be" on each and every cover, Puck magazine skewered the powerful from 1871 to 1918. The lush lithographic techniques are still, today, full of vibrant colors and pinpoint reproduction of details. Dick Buchanan has ventured into his deep, dark cartoon clip files to share these gems from the 19th century. He's also added quite a bit of background into the gags and the men who drew them. So, sit up straight and pay attention. This is cartoon history! Thanks, and take it away, Professor Buchanan!


Long ago, when your friendly crackpot Cartoon Clip file curator was merely a young eccentric, he leisurely explored the many bookstores which have proliferated in Greenwich Village ever since the days when Walt Whitman and Mark Twain exchanged barbs at the Hotel Albert. One afternoon we stumbled across a bunch of Puck magazines in a printer’s loft. After all, Greenwich Village lies beneath the shadow of the historic Puck Building so this was an area where such treasures were to be found. We are happy to share the cartoons and illustrations from the first great American humor magazine.

(1879 – 1890)

Puck. March 22, 1882. Cover by Bernhard Gillam

Puck was the first successful humor magazine published in the United States. It was also the first magazine to carry illustrated advertising and the first to successfully adopt full color lithography printing for a weekly publication.

A typical 16-page issue contained a vivid full-color political cartoon on the front cover and another one the back page. The back-page cartoon sometimes was political in nature but sometimes was one commenting on the social fabric of the day. Each issue contained a double-page color centerfold on a political topic. The magazine’s interior contained black-and-white cartoons dealing with issues like New York City’s Tammany Hall, presidential politics, and social issues of late 19th century to the early 20th century. Cartoons were also used to illustrate humorous anecdotes and poetry. The last few pages were devoted to advertisements.

Puck was created by Austrian-born cartoonist Joseph Kepler, a classically trained artist who immigrated to the United States in 1869. While living in St. Louis, Missouri he helped to publish German-American cartoon weekly magazines without success. After two failures, he launched a final effort, Puck, but it lasted only a year and a half.

In 1874 he moved to New York City where he worked for Frank Leslie’s Publishing House, contributing political cartoons to Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, one of the elite magazines of the time. In September 1876 he and fellow Frank Leslie employee Adolph Schwarzmann left Leslie’s and resurrected Puck for the New York German-American audience. A year later an English-language version was added.

Puck continued in operation for more than 40 years under several owners and editors, until it was bought by the William Randolph Hearst Company in 1916. The publication lasted only two more years. The final edition was distributed September 5, 1918. In 1931, the "Puck" name and slogan were revived as part of the Comic Weekly Sunday comic section that ran on Hearst's newspaper chain until 1989, when the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, the last paper running a comic section under that name, folded.

We delved into the farthest reaches of the Cartoon Clip and retrieved some cartoons by the pioneering cartoonists who made Americans laugh in the late 19th Century.

It is important to remember that these cartoons are part of history and therefore reveal the prejudice, stereotyping and injustice which was pervasive during this era.


Joseph Kepler’s cartoons were famous for their caustic wit, generating much publicity for Puck and pioneering the use of color lithography for caricature. Much of his success was due to a clever adaptation of classical and historical subjects to his criticisms of modern life. Initially Kepler drew all the Puck cartoons. But when the workload became too much, he made use of several talented artists who became the cornerstone of cartooning for decades.

1. JOSEPH KEPLER. Cover. Puck October 15, 1879.

2. JOSEPH KEPLER. Cover. Puck. January 5, 1887.

3. JOSEPH KEPLER. Cover Puck August 27, 1890.

 4. JOSEPH KEPLER. Back cover. Puck. circa 1882.


Eugene Zimmerman, who often signed with ZIM, was the developer of the grotesque school of caricature, sometimes credited as the originator of the “Big Foot” cartooning style. He was one of the nation's most respected and original cartoonists of the late 19th century. He was the founder and first president of the American Association of Cartoonists and Caricaturists.

5. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN. Cover. Puck October 28, 1885.

6. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN. Puck September 3, 1884.

7. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN. Puck October 8, 1884.

8. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN. Puck May 6, 1885

9. EUGENE ZIMMERMAN. Puck September 3, 1884.


Frederick Burr Opper, who signed his work F. Opper, was born in Madison, Ohio. He attended public school, but dropped out when he was fourteen to work for the local newspaper, the Madison Gazette. At the age of sixteen he moved to New York City where he worked in a store by day and drew cartoons in the evenings. Opper's only formal art training was one term at Cooper Union followed by a few months as a pupil and assistant to illustrator Frank Beard.

Opper's first published cartoon appeared in Wild Oats in 1876, followed by cartoons and illustrations in Scribner's and St. Nicholas. In 1877 he joined the staff of magazine publisher Frank Leslie. Following Leslie's death in early 1880, the publishers of Puck, Joseph Keppler and Adolph Schwarzmann, were able to hire the twenty-three-year-old for their magazine. Opper remained on the staff of Puck for eighteen years, drawing everything from spot illustrations to exquisite color covers.

Opper is regarded as one of the pioneers of the American newspaper comic strip. He his best known for his comic strip Happy Hooligan. His comic characters were featured in magazine gag cartoons, covers, political cartoons, and comic strips for six decades,

10. FREDERICK BURR OPPER. Back cover Puck October 28, 1885.

11. FREDERICK BURR OPPER. Puck May 6, 1886.

12. FREDERICK BURR OPPER. Puck January 5, 1887

13. FREDERICK BURR OPPER. Puck October 8, 1884.

14. FREDERICK BURR OPPER. Back Cover Puck May 6, 1886.


Louis Dalrymple was best known for his caricatures. Born in on a farm in Cambridge, Illinois, he exhibited a talent for drawing at an early age and contributed to a local country newspaper. He was studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts when Judge brought him to New York as a member of its staff. There he studied at the Art Students League. In 1885 he became the chief cartoonist for the New York’s Daily Graphic. A year later he joined the staff of Puck. Eventually his restless disposition led him to leave New York. He subsequently held positions on newspapers in Chicago and Pittsburgh.

15. LOUIS DALRYMPLE. Cover. Puck January 21, 1891.

16. LOUIS DALRYMPLE. Puck January 21, 1891.

17. LOUIS DALRYMPLE. Puck January 5, 1887.

18. LOUIS DALRYMPLE. Puck January 5, 1887.


Franklin Morris Howarth was a bookkeeper who spent most of his early life “trying to find the easiest way to make a living.” He discovered that work to be the writing of jokes and the drawing of comic pictures. His drawings were bright and original, featuring characters which were drawn from one-half to one-fourth its correct size. These “sawed-off people,” as he called them, were a clever effort to save both time and money. He resolved to make his drawings, and jokes, as different from the ordinary as possible and he succeeded admirably. Howarth wrote all of his own jokes as well as writing jokes for others. He holds a special distinction in the art world as being the first artist to draw a free hand sketch of the scene of a murder for a newspaper.

19. F. M. HOWARTH. Puck January 5, 1893.

20. F. M. HOWARTH. Back Cover Puck January 5, 1893.


Illustrator Charles Jay Taylor was born in New York, studied law at Columbia University, then art at the Art Students League, the National Academy of Design and City College of New York, as well as in London and Paris.

21. C.J. TAYLOR. Cover. Puck April 14, 1886.

1 comment:

DBenson said...

Old enough to remember when the San Francisco Chronicle and the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner published a combined Sunday edition. Up through the 60s at least there were two Sunday comic sections, one tabloid and one broadsheet, and a small version of the Puck masthead appeared on the broadsheet, I think.

To this day I feel slightly cheated by a single comic section.