Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: The Coon Alphabet

One of the greatest cartoonist/illustrators of the turn of the last century was certainly Edward W. Kemble. One of his favorite subjects, unfortunately, was the humorous depiction of blacks. Much of his art is now labeled racist, so the incredible gift for anatomy and shading he exhibited is now rarely seen.

Kemble became well-known primarily for his book and magazine illustrations, but he dabbled in newspaper work in the late 90s and 1900s, mostly for Hearst. His longest running series was The Blackberries, which was produced sporadically from 1897 to 1902. The series is very hard to track because, as was often the case in those days, a running title was considered superfluous. The series was also known as The Rag-Tag Cadets, Pickaninnies, The Coons, Coontown, Little Topsy ... well, you get the idea -- it's all over the map.

The Coon Alphabet - With Pictures From Dixie Land, though, is a cohesive series. Starting on June 5 1898 with the letters A and B, it continued each Sunday until Y and Z were covered on August 28.  A book by the same name was also published in 1898, but I don't know if Kemble's book version uses the same illustrations or other material.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample!


Yes, the book uses the same images as the Sunday pages. The S and T in the page here match the book, which was in black and white only. The book was printed with 1 panel per page, the panel being on the rectos only.

Thanks! Wonder whether the newspaper series or the book came first -- both are dated 1898.

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