Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Obscurity of the Day: Picture Puzzle Nursery Rhymes

Violet Moore Higgins created illustrations of exquisite beauty and was in great demand as a childrens book and magazine illustrator. That she ever made time for us newspaper folk is a favor for which we should be thankful. We've already covered her much later series, Drowsy Dick, here on the blog.

Today we'll discuss her earliest known series, titled Picture Puzzle Nursery Rhymes. It debuted as a weekly panel feature on August 3 1913*, distributed by the McClure Syndicate (not the Boston Globe as reported elsewhere on the interwebs -- they were merely a client).

Those who are familiar with our rules here at Stripper's Guide are undoubtedly aghast. Yes, we are covering a newspaper series that is in the activity/puzzle genre, which we say we won't do. (Notice how I pull out that royal we when I'm making excuses?). My unassailable argument is that Higgins' work is so gorgeous that it keeps me from thinking straight. So there.

So anyway, the feature offered not only a gorgeous illustration and a delightful original nursery rhyme, but a hidden picture search feature as well. In our samples above you'll find a key to finding the hidden faces (they were usually faces) in the small print underneath. Most newspapers ran the solution elsewhere in the paper, but this particular one was so lazy they undercut the whole point by stating right in the panel where the hidden faces were! Sheesh.

Picture Puzzle Nursery Rhymes never had a huge client list, but it could be found in many of the most lucrative big city papers. From that I'm guessing that McClure asked a premium price for this feature, which seems like a smart marketing move.

Drawing hidden picture illustrations for newspaper reproduction is a tough and thankless task. You can't do anything that depends on detailed linework, because newspapers are notorious for bad printing quality. I imagine that Higgins finally burned out from her weekly deadlines, and the feature was pulled after three years, the last installment appearing August 12 1916**.

McClure evidently felt the loss of this feature, because three years later they offered the Higgins material again, in reprints, under the simpler title Nursery Rhymes***. This time it was offered as a daily, which a little math tells us would give them a mere six months worth of daily material to offer from the old weekly series. This offering found few takers. The samples above are from this reprint series.

McClure finally got one additional use from the material in the late 1920s, when they sold it off to an unknown syndicate. That syndicate is known to have offered the feature in 1928-30 at least. The Southtown Economist ran it then under the unimaginative title Find the Faces.

* Source: Chicago Record-Herald
** Source: Brooklyn Eagle
*** I mistakenly cited this as a new series in my book, however with the benefit of digital archives I have determined that the material is reprinted from the old series.


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