History of Harper's Weekly

 

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An excellent venue for collecting antique artwork is to collect original illustrations from Harper's Weekly, the most popular illustrated newspaper of the 1800's.  Until the mid-1800's newspapers were primarily text.  During the late 1850's, Harper's Weekly pioneered an exciting new process that enabled the inclusion of illustrations with the text.  This technique was developed just in time for the Civil War.  The Civil War became the first conflict in which the general public could, in almost real time, see images from the battlefield, maps of the conflict, and images of the leaders.  Harper's Weekly brought the war home in a way that simply was not possible with traditional text based newspapers.  These original illustrations from Harper's Weekly have become highly collectible and important historical pieces. They offer dramatic eye-witness views of the battles, leaders, and life during the Civil War.  The story of how Harper's delivered

 this amazing product to a news-hungry public during the war is a fascinating one.  The process started by the deployment of not only reporters, but also artists to the battlefield.  Some of the most renowned artists of the 1800's got their start as illustrators for Harper's Weekly, including Winslow Homer and Thomas Nast.  Men such as these would accompany the war correspondents to the battlefield.  These artists would sketch scenes of the battles that they witnessed.   These sketches would then be dispatched back to Harpers for publication in the upcoming papers.  In order to publish the artwork, the images had to be first be carved onto a block of wood.  The challenge came in that it would take a single carver a long time to accomplish the task.  In order to provide the illustrations in a timely fashion, a very clever idea was developed.  The illustration would be cut into individual 2 inch squares, and each square would be cut onto a different small block of wood by a given carver.

By dividing the illustration up, a team of carvers could carve a given illustration in a short period of time.  After the small blocks were completed, they were then screwed back together to form the overall illustration.  This completed wood block was then used as a "master" to stamp the illustration onto all the newspapers being printed.  This process allowed timely and informative illustrations of current Civil War news events.  

These illustrations have now become prized and collectible pieces of art.  They provide the owner with a unique perspective on history, as the illustrations represent eye-witness accounts of the artists that were actually in the trenches with the soldiers.

 

 

 

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