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Abolishing the Penny

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  • October 2008
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The enormous output of posters in the United States during and just after the First World War belies this country's late entry into that conflict. Spurred by the example of the various European combatants, the creation and production of appropriate "pictorial publicity" quickly achieved a very high level of artistic involvement and industrial application. Thousands of designs were created, and most of them were printed in very large numbers. As a result, very few of these posters are scarce even today, and only a small handful might qualify as "rare."

A large number of artists were involved in the creation of posters during the war. Some of them came to the work with their reputations already secured through their commercial work in books, magazines, and advertising: of these, for example, Howard Chandler Christy and James Montgomery Flagg are represented in this exhibit, Harrison Fisher and Edward Penfield are not. Some of the artists in the exhibit are now known to us largely because they did these-and other-posters. "Ruttan" and the euphonious "H. Blyleven Esselen" defeated attempts to track them down in the reference resources at hand; John E. Sheridan, who might well be a mystery elsewhere, is known here because he attended Georgetown in the closing years of the 19th century and his first poster work was probably the series he did advertising Georgetown baseball games against Princeton, Yale, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. As in Britain, some posters took advantage of work first published as cartoons in the daily papers; the examples shown here by W. A. Rogers and Oscar Cesare are typical. Many of the artists, whether obscure or famous, contributed their work gratis to the war effort.

The posters helped not only with the obvious aim of recruiting members for the armed forces, but with the parallel home-front efforts embodied in various conservation efforts, in the multiple aims of the United War Work Campaign, in the work of the Red...

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