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Martha Kennedy, Curator (retired), Popular & Applied Graphic Art, Prints & Photographs Division
Barbara Natanson, Head, Reference Section, Prints & Photographs DivisionCreated: December 2020
Last Updated: December 2021
The Library holds multiple, extensive collections of cartoon and caricature art that collectively contain an estimated 129,000 original drawings and prints in the Prints & Photographs Division. They include such diverse subgenres as political cartoons and caricatures, comic strips and comic books, gag and other single panel cartoons, graphic novels, animation, and born digital drawings.
Since 1870, the Library has been collecting varied forms of these popular arts through copyright deposit, gifts from generous cartoonists and collectors, and occasional purchases. In terms of quality, quantity, and variety of original cartoon and caricature art, P&P’s world class collections stand out in scope and richness.
North American and European political and social satire represents a major strength in the Library's cartoon collections. Chronologically and geographically, these cartoons and caricatures encompass 17th century Dutch engravings, 18th-19th century etchings and engravings by masters of the "Golden Age of British Satire," early American and Civil War era prints, 21st century political/social critiques in hybrid media (hand and digitally drawn), and born digital media. Highlights include American political prints acquired mainly from copyright deposits, British and European satires purchased from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in 1921, more than 14,000 finished drawings by Washington Post cartoonist Herbert L Block, and drawings by many other Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonists that collectively number in the thousands. This imagery provides invaluable information about popular perceptions of social and political issues of their times, chronicles national leaders’ standings with their publics, and demonstrates the evolving use of allegory, social, and political symbols to shape or express public opinion.
Drawings for classic comic strips feature prominently in the Swann Collection of Caricature & Cartoon, the Cartoon Drawings Collection, and the Art Wood Collection of Caricature & Cartoon that came to the Library in 2001. Holdings include beautifully drawn early American comics from the late 1890s-early 1900s, numerous popular 20th century examples that demonstrate how the drawing of strips and comic book pages evolved, in addition to works created close to the present, including examples of born digital drawings. The wide variety of visual and narrative storytelling styles highlights the unique skills of accomplished artists who have created some of the most amusing, famous, and outlandish characters to appear in comic formats.
For more information about these and other collections of cartoon and caricature drawings, see the Selected Collections page of this guide.