The Cabinet of American Illustration consists primarily of drawings and other graphic representations by American illustrators for literary works including novels and poetry, magazines that published literary and popular writing, publications for children, and advertisements, made primarily between 1880 and 1910. The collection also includes political cartoons, cover art, and drawings for posters. Images reflect political, social, and economic conditions, domestic and family life, popular culture, and contemporary and historical events including World War I and the Spanish-American War.
The sheer size and scope of works by celebrated artists of the Golden Age of Illustration (ca. 1880-1920s) contained in the Cabinet represent key strengths of the collection (see list of "Selected Artists Represented in the Cabinet" at left). Most of the works were created between 1890 and 1940, thus a great number of illustrators working on paper during that time are represented, making the collection the major repository for such important practitioners as Charles Dana Gibson, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Edward Penfield. In addition to Green, strong representation of such other prominent women illustrators as Alice Barber Stephens, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Charlotte Harding, distinguishes the Cabinet's excellent overall coverage of the era.