The following is a guest post by Technical Services Technician Michelle An, with contributions from Technical Services Technician Jenni Orme and Curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art Sara Duke. All authors work in the Prints & Photographs Division.
With 6,000 items, the Dietrich Hecht collection of Bilderbogen (picture sheets) provides a robust cross section of the wide range of topics and uses for this rare type of ephemera. Examples include fables, military history, city views, and advertisements as well as confectionary decorations, paper doll and theater cutouts, board games, tavern decorations, and shooting targets, issued by German, French, and Russian publishers. The collection also has the Münchener Bilderbogen series–all 51 annual volumes that offer more than 1,200 picture stories.
Processing the collection
The majority of these picture sheets were marketed as inexpensive entertainment–intended to be enjoyed and discarded. As a result, they were printed on “cheap” paper that has become fragile over time. Library staff provided special housing of paper support and polyester enclosures for the brittle paper sheets in order to prevent damage as the processing team surveyed and organized the collection. Working closely with Sara W. Duke, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art, we devised 38 groupings to provide access by the type of material and then subject. To sort the items we relied upon an initial set of categories provided by the donor, Herr Hecht, as well as visual clues from the prints themselves and online translation aids.
Tip for researchers: Each of the 38 groupings, known as LOTs, contains two titles that pair the donor’s original categories in German with a devised title by Library staff in English.
An example from one of the larger categories (LOT 15459):
Title: [European soldier figures to be used as cut outs and printed on picture sheets called Bilderbogen]
Other Title: Collector’s category: Soldaten – AusschneidebogenExploring the collection
Some subjects, such as “soldiers” or “soldaten,” are present in several LOTs because military figures and scenes were pervasive in popular culture. Below are examples of soldiers featured in battle scenes and historical events, coloring picture sheets, and cut out paper soldiers. Almost 750 military prints are in these three groups: LOT 15459 – European soldier figures to be used as cut outs and printed on picture sheets called Bilderbogen, LOT 15444 – Battle scenes and historical events printed on single frame and multi-frame picture sheets called Bilderbogen, and LOT 15462 – Multi-frame scenes for coloring on picture sheets called Bilderbogen.
The sizes of items range from over 6 feet to less than 6 inches, although the majority of the prints are on 17” x 14” sheets of paper. Below, the oversized Prussian army officer with feathered pickelhaube (LOT 15452, no. 178), measuring approximately 76 inches in height, and miniature cutout soldier mounted on wood blocks (LOT 15459-A, no. 199), rising to only several inches, are examples of this variety in sizes.
Processing technician Libby McKiernan created special housing for the toy soldiers attached to wood blocks corresponding to the call numbers LOT 15459-A, no. 197-203.
Tip for researchers: Use the “search contents list” feature of the online finding aid to find all instances of such search terms as “soldier,” “soldaten,” “military,” and “battle.”
The use of color throughout the collection is also noteworthy. For example, these three prints from the Russian picture sheets known as Lubok (LOT 15447) display color variations of the same print. Curator Sara W. Duke noted that in her career she had never seen anything like the broad, colorful brush strokes used in many of the Russian prints, and “the teals, purples, and yellows really stand out.”
Brokatpapier (LOT 15466), also known as Dutch gilt papers, are another highlight of the collection. Processing technician Jenni Orme observed that these works rarely survive in as wonderful a condition as the example below. Printers created these decorative papers by transferring gold leaf to colored paper using wooden plates or engraving rollers. In the end, the shiny gold leaf accents the vibrant colored paper to show an array of images, including flowers, animals, and narrative scenes. The polished gold may look embossed, giving the appearance of being raised off the paper to look like brocade and is often referred to as brocade paper. The Dutch gilt paper was often used as endpapers and covers in books. This collection includes eight sheets of Dutch gilt paper with distinctive images displayed on them.
While visual clues and online translations provided useful information, certain symbols or scenes prompted further research to understand the humor and cultural messages of some prints.
One example is the depiction of tailors (”Schneider” in German) in various scenarios. They are holding scissors and irons as symbols of their trade. Intrigued by these life-size and miniature tailors, often portrayed with rams or goats and sometimes with a devilish-figure nearby, we sought out background information.
The popularity of both satirizing and romanticizing tailors in images also occurred in music as described in The Book of German Songs: from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth century by H.W. Dulcken (1856). The humorous song “90 x 9 x 99” weaves a tale about little or miniature tailors and their penchant for drunkenness: they drink wine from a thimble, creep through narrow keyholes, roast a mouse, and eventually drown, an ignominious end to their wild adventure. Tailors also appear in popular German children’s stories such as Der Struwwelpeter. Additional prints in the collection feature tailors in other children’s stories and jumping jack puppet figures (pantins).
Looking closely, can you identify similar symbols in these two prints? How many pairs of scissors can you find? In addition to goats, what other animals do you see? What types of hats can you spot?
We invite you to explore the collection and learn more about European popular prints.
Here are some helpful links to get you started:
- Enjoy select digitized images from each LOT as representative samples including the super-oversize (SOS) prints.
- Explore the online finding aid for a description of each print as well as the Scope and Content Note and Arrangement for further details about the Bilderbogen Collection. Note that the LOT summaries in English can be helpful, if you don’t know German, French, or other languages represented on the original prints. German and French.
- Check out Popular Graphic Arts in a collection of 15,000 engravings and lithographs that includes work by Currier & Ives, Louis Prang, and many other publishers.