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Lugubrious Grins, Annual Attacks, and the Social Circus: Highlights from Three Creatively Illustrated 19th-Century Works

Posted on 10/23/2015

In the October release of American Pamphlets, 1820-1922: From the New-York Historical Society are three whimsical and elaborately illustrated pamphlets unique to this collection. The first two are by illustrator Augustus Hoppin (1828-1896), a widely published American caricaturist who appears to have been largely obscured in the mist of history. We are fortunate to have access to his flights of fancy, highlights of which are seen below. The third work featured here is by another prolific illustrator who flourished at the end of the 19th-century. A master of the Art Nouveau style, H.W. McVickar also remains nearly completely forgotten today.

Carrot-pomade, with twenty-six illustrations by Augustus Hoppin (1864)

Carrot-pomade describes the alchemy that transforms carrots into a miraculous ointment which stimulates and regenerates hair growth: “Hair ten carats fine!” boasts the title page.


Author/illustrator Hoppin dedicates his work, “To All those who have witnessed the wonderful effects of Carrot-Pomade on the waste places of the human cranium…” Each illustration corresponds to a letter of the alphabet, beginning with “A is Adolphe with lugubrious grin,” “B is the Bald-spot where the hair is so thin.”



Not surprisingly the illustration for C is “a carrot which grew in the soil.” However, this anthropomorphic representation of the vegetable is an evil-looking root which seems to promise bad intent.



Carrot-pomade culminates in YZ:


Oh Beardless Youth,

And Zealous Lover,

Try Carrot Grease

And you’ll re-cover.


The final illustration depicts this carrot laid to permanent rest surrounded by guttering candles.


Hay fever by Aug. Hoppin (1873)

If possible, the pamphlet entitled “Hay fever” is even more fantastic than the tale of Carrot-Pomade. In his preface, Mr. Hoppin quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes “in reply to Rev. Henry Beecher as to a remedy for Hay Fever: -- Gravel is an effectual cure. It should be taken about eight feet deep.”


We are introduced to Mr. A. Wiper Weeks as he awakens in the night to tell his wife “that he feels it coming on.” As his distress grows exponentially, Mr. Weeps defies every attempt by his wife and children to treat him.





Consequently, “He tries Allopathy by the bucketful. 2. He takes Homeopathy through a magnifying glass. 3. He indulges in a pinch of the “Great Anti-Catarrh Snuff” which completely upsets him.”


All to no avail the sufferer seeks relief at the seaside, down a coal mine, to the highest peak in his region until he finally conceives a notion as to how he can escape “the great catarrh belt.”


This involves a balloon and copious handkerchiefs, but at last he is triumphant, and Mrs. Weeps can put “away her husband’s handkerchiefs in readiness for the next ‘annual attack.’”



Greatest show on earth: Society [ill. By H.W. McVickar] (1892)

In the latter years of the 19th century, New York City society was defined by Mrs. Astor’s list of 400 of its most prominent members (400 was said to be the capacity of the Astor’s ballroom). As more and more new fortunes were amassed, and more and more nouveau riche crowded onto the scene, this arbitrary list became increasingly flexible.


Mr. McVickar subtitled his collection of illustrations “Our Amateur Circus or a New York Season.” Further, he trumpets that his work is “Truthful, Moral, Instructive” and contains:

20 pages of Social Circus Performances! “400” Living Wonders!

A Menagerie of Rare and Trained Animals!

Weird, Supernatural Illusions! Museum of Wonders!

Equestrians, Clowns, Tumblers, Freaks!

Ballet Girls, and Foreign Specialists in Amazing and Sensational Acts! 


Thereafter, the text in this unique satire is minimal, but the beautifully colored illustrations are profuse. The drawings are clever, detailed, and witty. The circus theme prevails throughout. As Mr. McVickar is sparing of text, so should we be, and simply urge the reader to indulge in the pleasure of his art.









For more information about American Pamphlets, 1820-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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