Political cartoons predict the future

Isaac Funk was a man ahead of his time, an editor, lexicographer, publisher, spelling reformer, and prohibitionist. Frankly, Funk might never have come to my attention but for a flea market find. While wandering through nostalgic fragments of the past I purchased 10 magazines – each worthy of framing. Total cost? One dollar for the lot. So we’re not talking about a fortune except in pleasure.

What I acquired was a collection of The Literary Digest with brilliant color reproductions of famous paintings on the covers. These issues were published in 1931 and 1932 by the Funk & Wagnalls Company. In the 1920s the known circulation of The Literary Digest reached more than one million households and continued to expand in the 1930s.

Funk & Wagnalls is probably best known for their publications in the dictionary and encyclopedia field. The Literary Digest was their first foray into a magazine other than religious oriented publications. It was filled with “topics of the day, foreign comment, letters, poetry, motoring and aviation news, investing, science, and political cartoons.”

The magazine was produced from 1890 until about 1936. The public lost confidence in anything printed in the magazine when its prediction in the presidential election of 1936 was terribly flawed. Their dubious polling practices foretold an overwhelming win for Alf Landon over Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Before its demise The Literary Digest was highly regarded and contained extensive reports on world news, the economy, prohibition and, of course, anger with the current crop of politicians. People held their leaders responsible for the Great Depression, citing graft, corruption, outrageous taxes and total disregard for the “little fellow.”

These ads can be found today in large and small ephemera collections. Prices range from $5 to as much as $1,000 for  compilations or items from particular artists.

Original art for political cartoons is a growing section of Americana. A lot of five political cartoons sold for $225 (including buyer’s premium) at a 2005 Skinner auction. A large lot of cartoons from the satire publication Puck was sold by Cowan’s Auction for $40 in August 2009 and collection of 65 cartoons by Jewish artist Cecile Starr sold for $550 in a June 2009 Cowan’s auction.

With very little editing the advice and cartoons could be used today. What follows are excerpts from various political magazines and newspapers.

October 10, 1931:
The headlines with these cartoons was “Wage slashing as a Great National Issue”
“The high priests of industry want a further cut of ten per cent in their pay rolls as a constructive move to help restore prosperity. If this is the best our captains of industry can do they are morally and intellectually bankrupt and it is time to look for guidance elsewhere.”

NOVEMBER 14, 1931
Politics as usual – who are these pigs supposed to be working for?

December 1931
Congress considerations: “higher income, estate taxes and sales taxes, additional relief programs for unemployed, creation of new system of home loan discount banks, new naval construction….” (looks like they have been debating for about 80 years).

November 28, 1931
“The … announcement will bring peace to thousands upon thousands of people who have been greatly agitated about the fate of their real estate equities.”

November 28, 1931

Rising taxes – lost jobs – lots of hot air

December 19, 1931
Everyone was protesting the effects of the Great Depression – this poster was produced by Communist leaders who organized a hunger march to the Capital. About 1,200 people carried banners demanding “Down with the Hoover Hunger Government.”

“Raise taxes and raise hell! An army of Philadelphia citizens descended upon the City Council. And they forced it to abandon its plan to boost assessments.”

“Outraged citizens of Philadelphia hit the war path when the City Council prepared to increase the city tax rate.” … “This uprising in view of the fact that many local governments are in desperate straits for money, makes a fiery conflict whose ultimate outcome is puzzling politicians.”

January 16, 1932

Chicago Teetering on the Precipice!

Agonized Chicago Writhes in financial paroxysm.

“There has been talk of receivership..or closing the public schools for six months or a year…to save the city from bankruptcy. taxpayers’ strike continuing over several years has left the city treasury empty.”

Images courtesy Suzanne Meredith

Suzanne Meredith is a longtime Antique Trader freelance writer and author.


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