The McLoughlin Bros. of New York

The McLoughlin Bros. were a New York based publisher of children’s books from 1828-1920. They were known for implementing innovative color printing techniques in their children’s books. The stories they published were often “bowdlerizations” or retellings of well known children’s stories but they also published religious, moralist and other education texts. (Bowdlerizations are considered to be less offensive versions of tales, but you can decide whether you agree with that characterization.) They printed toy books or chapbooks, large folio picture books and linen books, as well as puzzles and games, including many of the earliest board games in America. In fact, in 1920, they stopped making games when the corporation was sold to Milton Bradley & Company. (They continued to print books, however.)

Early McLoughlin Bros. work is characterized by being bright and hand colored. Through the years they seemed to stay on top of the newest printing trends and even introduced photographic process into printing by applying oil colors directly to the zinc plates-  a revolutionary practice at that time.

There are several McLoughlin Bros. books in the Gottesman collection, as well as in the rare book and manuscript division at Columbia libraries, and some poems on microfilm in Butler. Since they are out of copyright, you can actually find some of the texts online.  One of the most famous McLoughlin Bros. books is a story called Goody Two Shoes about a good-hearted orphan who bootstraps her way out of poverty. This particular book is available in its entirety on the Internet Archive– and I highly recommend taking a look.

A Closer Look

For the most part, it was very easy to find information on the McLoughlin Bros. as the Internet is home to a multitude of websites on Americana and classic ephemera. Some universities, like Rutgers even have archives dedicated to the McLoughlin Bros. and have saved their papers, correspondence and other artifacts.

Interestingly, these websites did not link to the full canon of texts and not everything printed by the McLoughlin Bros. ends as happily as Goody’s story. I found a poem called The ten little n*** (c. 1875?) which is available on microform at Butler library. Technically, this poem was written to teach young children how to count backwards from ten though I think it clear that is not the real lesson being taught.  This is a violent poem in which all of the children die, most quite violently. The illustrations depict the children as  black steoreotypes who look more like gorillas than people.  According to Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (JGAPE), the McLoughlin Bros.  often stole texts from popular children’s author Heinrich Hoffmann and published them with their own illustrations. The JGAPE journal also asserts that it was common for the McLoughlin Bros. versions to be even more crude and racist than the originals.

Though I don’t have any statistics on the commerical success or social popularity of this poem,  Agatha Christie’s book And Then There Were None was originally titled Ten Little N***, with the understanding her audience would get the inference to this poem. According to JGAPE, Christie’s American publisher urged her not to use that title and they ultimately settled on And Then There Were None, which is, as you may have guessed, the last line of the poem.

I also found the McLoughlin Bros. edition of a story called “The Girl who Inked herself” which is the retelling of a story about a girl who continually spills ink on herself until she turns black, at which point her parents call her “too hideous for a daughter,” and sell her to a rag shop as a “black doll.” The story ends with an image of Miss Mopsa hanging in the window of a rag shop.

Though it may feel like an age,  I did not have to travel very far through time or space to find these books and uncover the evidence of some lessons better never learned at all. I hope that by illuminating these texts and some characteristics of the society that created them, we are encouraged to thoughtfully consider the artifacts that define us, and which will no doubt teach our values to future generations. What will our children’s children find when they clear the dust from the stories we leave behind?