As the nineteenth century progressed, Americans' graphic universe was populated by the colorful packaging increasingly used to market commercial goods. The development of cheap color lithography applied to inexpensive, machine-produced paper made the production of various kinds of labels and small advertisements possible. The growth of American commerce and urban centers encouraged their use.
The division's rich holdings of product labels (about 1,800 items, 1840s-80s), especially tobacco and patent medicine labels, which were acquired through copyright deposit, reflect nineteenth-century commercial development. They invite analysis of the connections among the marketing of particular products, the intended customers for the products, and the nature of the imagery used in the products' packaging.
It has been argued that manufacturers provided lavish, often ingenious, pictorial labeling for luxury goods such as tobacco and wine, aiming to appeal to the potential purchaser's yearning for elegance and for self-indulgence. By the 1870s, tobacco art had developed along two lines:
The labels also depict celebrities of the day, including popular actresses and singers. Although researchers have, to a certain extent, mined the product labels for illustration and for research on representation of racial and ethnic groups, they remain fertile territory for scholarly exploration, particularly with respect to the connections among gender representation, commerce, and consumption.
Labels that have been requested for reproduction can be searched online. The labels do not have their own listing in the online catalog, but can be retrieved by searching for the format labels in combination with the product being advertised, such as patent medicines, tobacco, etc., as well as the subject depicted.
To look for the images for which no online record exists, on-site researchers can consult the catalog category Groups of Images to locate the appropriate LOT number and then request to view the group.
The sub-categories into which the labels have been sorted seldom mention women explicitly. A certain amount of intuition is needed to select the products and categories in which women are likely to be depicted. Sub-categories such as “Allegories,” “Bicycles and bicycling,” and “Daily life and activities,” for instance, yield rich imagery of women.
Sheet music covers (1,700 items, ca. 1820s-1900s) made heavy use of imagery to attract purchasers. Supplementing the content of the music and lyrics, the pictorial covers convey information about gender conventions and ideals.
Not surprisingly, portraits of popular singers abound, but comic and romantic songs also featured illustrations intended to match the mood of the music.
The Music Division holds a large collection of sheet music with covers intact. The Prints & Photographs Division holds a substantial collection of sheet music covers (LOT 10615), occasionally with the music still attached.
Sheet music covers that have been requested for reproduction can be searched online. The sheet music collection does not have its own listing in the online catalog, but items can be retrieved by searching for the format sheet music covers in combination with subjects, names, and so forth.
To look for images for which no online record exists, on-site researchers can request to view LOT 10615. The sheet music covers have been sorted into categories according to the theme of the cover illustrations.