Scanning Around With Gene: Christmas With Puck Magazine

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In the early days of periodical printing in the Unites States, humor magazines were much more common than they are today, though “humor” in this context was often subtle and usually very political. Looking back at many of these periodicals today is a bit baffling – you really have to put the editorial commentary in context of the day to appreciate any of the humor, and it’s not exactly side-splitting.

One popular weekly, Puck, was founded by cartoonist Joseph Ferdinand Keppler in St. Louis in 1871, published in both German and English. Five years later Keppler moved the magazine to New York and the periodical gained in popularity and was eventually published for more than 40 years. A typical 32-page issue contained a full-color cartoon on the cover and a color cartoon or comic strip on the back cover. Inside, a full-color center spread also contained cartoons, mostly political. During the holidays, Puck often had non-political illustrations that celebrated Christmas through various imagery. Click on any image for a larger version.

Puck is named after Shakespeare's character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A statue of the character adorns the famous Puck building in New York at the corner of Lafayette and Houston Streets (shown below).

At one time the Puck building housed the world’s largest lithographic pressworks under one roof, and had its own electricity-generating capabilities. Puck magazine was the first weekly to employ full-color lithography, and one of the first to contain regular illustrated advertising.

Covers from Puck often carried a picture of the Puck character quoting the phrase “What fools thee mortals be.”

Puck employed many of the popular illustrators of the day, becoming America’s premier journal of graphic humor and political satire and played an important role as a generally non-partisan crusader for good government and the triumph of American constitutional ideals.

Over the years, the magazine had various owners and eventually ended up as a periodical from the William Randolph Hearst company, who bought it in 1916. Unfortunately, Hearst couldn’t make a go of it and ceased publication two years later in 1918.

One curious sidebar to the Puck story is the small editorial feature below, which is thought to be one of the first examples of typographic “emoticons,” published in 1881.

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