|Blog Home History Glossary Guides Publishers Artists Techniques Topicals Warfare Contact|
Liberty - part 2 of 4
Despite all the reluctance encountered in procuring funding, BartholdiÕs statue was widely embraced upon its completion. Its intended meaning may have been obscured, but years of publicity it had already made it a highly recognizable landmark before it was ever unveiled. Nowhere was this more true than in New York City where it quickly became a subject for the new phenomenon of postcards. Even before the American publishing industry grew to widely produce cards, the image of the statue if liberty was being placed on early Gruss aus cards by German publishers for German tourists. On the German card above both the Statue of Liberty and Columbia atop the national emblem appear, but they are used as decorative elements to help affirm country and city.
By the turn of the 20th century, the Statue of Liberty was firmly entrenched as a local landmark, and as such it was represented on countless American view-cards. This trend had already begun with a few early pioneers and was well represented on private mailing cards. These cards generally did not assign any specific meaning to the statue, it was just another familiar site that could be used as an excuse for selling cards. Even when extra elements are added as on the early card above, they are usually only used for decorative purposes, not to inspire meaning.
A Bald Eagle holding an olive branch and arrows with its talons, and a scroll inscribed E Pluribus Unum in its beak protected by a shield with thirteen stars and stripes became the national emblem when the great seal of the United States was adopted in 1782. It was a thoroughly familiar symbol when the London publisher Raphael Tuck & Sons used it on the postcard above to represent America. Lurking in the background however is something new; the Statue of Liberty has been added to the mix. While still very much a landmark for tourists this card postmarked 1903 shows that it was already being recognized as a national symbol overseas.
In 1903 lines from the poem New Colossus by Emma Lazarus were carved into the base of the statue. In part they read, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” While the Statue of Liberty was never intended to be a welcoming greeting for immigrants, and many tried to discourage such associations, the connection began being made by the immigrants themselves, and they are the ones who kept this potent narrative alive. The modern continental card above, issued for the statue’s centennial, reproduced an old wood engraving from 1887, cut only a year after the inauguration, It shows that the statue’s associations with immigration developed nearly from the start. While the early postcard below does not depict the Statue of Liberty, the caption makes reverence to the land of liberty. While there were many driving forces behind immigration, the term liberty is cited here in recognition of the unseen monument. It is already a natural association.
Immigration, always a controversial topic in America, became more so in the early 20th century as many wanted to stop this flow of wretched refuse to our shores. Postcard publishers rarely tackled this issue despite their willingness to portray the emigrant stations and the ghettos of the Lower East Side. The card above is a typical early view-card that has been overprinted with a foreign language ad for an event at Webster Hall. A card depicting the Statue of Liberty may have been chosen at random, but it is just as likely that this particular card was singled out because someone though it would strike a chord with the newly arrived Russian reader.
Not all cards picturing ships passing through New York Harbor dealt with immigrants. On the card above from 1907 entitled Homeward Bound, we are presented with some finely dressed ladies arriving on a French steamship. One of them holds up an eye piece to get a better view of the famous landmark, as its meant for all beyond class distinctions. Since New York Harbor was a major point of entry for all those coming over from Europe, the Statue of Liberty became an important symbol of arrival in America. This may have promoted the statue’s acceptance as a national symbol faster in Europe than in the United States.
As the golden age of postcards emerged, the Statue of Liberty would be depicted by both American and European publishers in great numbers, but only as a famous landmark. The statue’s association with New York City had grown so strong that it was incorporated on many advertising cards for steamship lines that had service to this port. In this way their liners were not just sitting in an anonymous body of water but could be posed in a glamorous harbor. In the night view above we see that the statue was not yet illuminated; only her lit torch served as a beacon.
While many views of ocean liners passing the Statue of Liberty are quite realistic, they often lack drama as the distant statue is relegated to being little more than a footnote in a composition. Compensation was sometimes found in night scenes where the statue could stand out with its torch illuminated, but the emphasis on cards usually remained on the steamship. This problem was eventually solved with a little artistic license where the card was composed so that the vessel is placed far outside the shipping channel to be more closely associated with the statue. In a similar fashion the Statue of Liberty is sometimes prominently drawn into scenes of the hazy harbor much closer to Manhattan than it actually stands to satisfy the expectations of card buying tourists who want its presence to match its growing mythology. On some of these cards a faint image of the real statue can still be discerned much further in the distance.
Images of Lady Liberty with steamships became so common that publishers were always looking for variations on the theme to generate more sales. This trend started early as with this hold-to-light novelty card with an undivided back. Here the composition used is traditional but the presentation is somewhat unique. Many other types of novelty cards were also produced.
While not a true novelty, double, triple and even quadruple folded cards were produced to be out of the ordinary and possibly attract more sales. These were basically printed on a single sheet of paper and then folded so the image was hidden away on the inside. These types of cards lent themselves to wide panoramas; but New York publishers used them in a vertical format to capture early skyscrapers, and of course the towering Statue of Liberty.
On the postcard above from Max Ettlinger & Co. the search for a unique presentation of the Statue of Liberty is taken a step further. It now leaves the realm of reality to be presented as a comic fantasy. The same can be said of the card below from 1906. Both were part of a similarly themed series that included other highly recognizable landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Flatiron Building. This indicates that Lady Liberty was not singled out for this treatment but was often considered nothing more than another popular tourist attraction.
In 1907, before the insertion of small prizes in Cracker Jack boxes became common, you could mail ten box sides to the Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein of Chicago, and receive one of sixteen Roosevelt Bear reward cards in return. These anthropomorphized cartoon characters rose to fame with the teddy bear craze, and the cards became very popular. One card has the Roosevelt Bears cheering for liberty while they mischievously paint the Cracker Jack name onto the statue’s tablet. While Lady Liberty was already on her way to becoming a nationally recognized patriotic symbol, the process was not yet complete. She had the fame required for recognition but had not yet reached the status where commercial exploitation of her image seemed inappropriate. Over commercialization eventually made her image tiresome and depictions of her declined. At the same time this endless commercial usage had turned Lady Liberty into a well known celebrity.
At the height of the golden age of postcards, liberty was presented in a variety of ways as publishers raced to produce more cards. While depictions of the statue in New York Harbor primarily show her as a landmark, there is no shortage of cards depicting liberty as allegory. On the card above from 1907 we find the classical rendition of liberty with her red Phrygian cap holding an American flag. She stand in front of the Capitol Building signifying that the United States stands for liberty. In retrospect the pairing seems a bit uncomfortable as this version of liberty is more closely associated with revolution and fell out of vogue in the United States after 1917 with the rise of communism.
On another patriotic card we find a more modern version of Miss Liberty. She is missing all the traditional trappings of classical liberty, and does not even bare any resemblance to the figure of Columbia. She does however hold out Independence Day fireworks in reference to the famous statue’s torch, but all ties to France have been cut as she is now dressed in an American flag. While the title of the card gives away her name, by this time the pose itself had become so recognizable that few would have trouble guessing who she was.
The proliferation of commercial imagery containing the Statue of Liberty eventually made her continence so familiar that it began to assume the proportions of a national symbol. Though the traditional personification of liberty in the womanly form of Columbia still persisted in the United States, it was slowly becoming synonymous with Bartholdi’s statue and both were used interchangeably whenever a patriotic reference needed to be drawn. This association is most obvious on political cards used for electioneering that need to rest upon a few basic symbols that could be nationally recognized. The Statue of Liberty was now one of these that could be counted on to express positive American virtues even if they were difficult to articulate.
While the Hudson-Fulton celebration of 1909 had nothing to do with liberty, her mere presence in New York Harbor and newfound connection to anything patriotic meant that she could not be overlooked. She was not only included in the festivities, she was highlighted with the most modern technology. Special electric lights were installed to show her off at night, and Wilbur Wright circled her towering presence with his airplane. These types of associations would help keep Lady Liberty relevant so that she never seemed to age. Liberty also became the subject of one of the historical parade’s floats; the postcards of which became official souvenirs.
Though the Statue of Liberty was built to represent Franco-American friendship, its meaning was easily appropriated by others when this memory faded. Due to the large numbers of German immigrants that came to America’s shores, there where very close ties between the two nations. New York City had special status in German minds as a point of entry so it is not surprising that Bartholdi’s statue came to represent the United States in their eyes. Kaiser Wilhelm II, a great lover of yachts, had Meteor III built on Shooters Island in New York, and it was pictured on man postcards. A variation is the card above depicting the Prussian Prince Heinrich and President Roosevelt with their yachts under the watchful eyes of Lady Liberty. Here she represents both New York and the United States in the context of German-American friendship. Below is another card made to honor German-American ties that was issued by the Association of German Chemists during a trade conference in 1912. Not only does the Statue of Liberty present a welcoming gesture, it is reciprocated by a figure of Germania in a similar pose.
In the years leading up to World War One, the Statue of Liberty begins to gain prominence as a symbol of the United States, though it is rarely singled out; it is usually shown as just one symbol among many. This begins to happen at the same time that the image of Columbia begins to rapidly give way to the more masculine Uncle Sam. This battle for male-female supremacy seems to have its roots both in popular culture and much deeper symbolism. Was a masculine archetype needed as more dangerous times approached? Did the waning presence of Columbia stir a need for a great mother figure that was filled by Lady Liberty? While there seems to be no definitive answer, these seem like real possibilities that cannot be ignored.
The First World War saw propaganda used to unprecedented levels; every aspect of popular culture and society’s fundamental beliefs were exploited to further war aims. The Allies understood its potential the best, and the War was soon framed as a crusade pitting civilization against barbarism. To contrast the opposing sides, Germans were not just portrayed as villains; the virtues of the Allies had to be played up as well, and that of liberty became the one most widely represented on postcards.
Liberty, equality, fraternity where the hallmarks of the French Revolution, and these words continue to appear on cards honoring the French Republic. When used on cards published during the Great War, they are meant to contrast with common perceptions of Prussian militarism that were though to dominate the German character. In the complex allegory above, the enthroned female figure that dominates the composition is clearly meant to represent liberty because of her red Phrygian cap.
Unity cards, that promoted the bonds between allied nations were very common in World War One. They played a very important role in propaganda because many of the empires now allied by military treaty were traditional enemies, and remedies were needed to counter centuries of rivalry and hatred. One way to go about this was to stress shared values. That is the message to be found on this British card above by Valentines. The silk postcard pictured below is a good example of just how quickly the idea of Britain and France being depositories of liberty took hold in the public mindset. While the theme is identical to the card above, this one is not printed but hand sewn in silk. The ordinary woman who made it was not part of the propaganda war, but she knew that this was a popular theme that was already accepted and likely to sell.
France and Great Britain often presented the Great War a a fight for democracy, though this rang hollow to many American ears as they were also allied to the autocratic Czar of Russia. The purpose of propaganda cards however is not to represent reality but to promote an idea; and cards promoting the Allies united by their traditions of liberty continued to be made. While the War became less problematic for the United States after the February Revolution in Russia that forced the Czar to abdicate, many American publishers were still reluctant to touch the topic. On this American postcard from 1917, liberty is only represented by the flags of the United States, Great Britain, and France.
This trend of the Statue of Liberty moving towards becoming a national symbol was greatly enhanced by America’s entry into the Great War in 1917. There was an obvious reason for its increased use at this time; it was a clear reminder that our present attempts to aid France were based on a long historic friendship. Cards depicting American and French soldiers together under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty became very common, especially on those published in France. Historic dates are sometimes placed on these cards to directly connect the American and French Revolutions, portraying both as struggles for liberty, thus reinforcing common bonds and cause in the current struggle.
Allegory was widely used on French cards during the Great War, and they continued to represent their own traditional personification of liberty in the form of Marianne. The personification of victory is another common motif on French cards and both figures are often portrayed leading men into battle. Marianne however can usually be distinguished by her red Phrygian cap as opposed to the wreath on Victory’s head. Many cards from the Great War that depict Marianne also refer to her earlier revolutionary connection by invoking the Marseillaise.
On the above below we see liberty as Marianne greeting liberty in the form of the great statue as American troops rush in to help France. Watching from the sidelines is French General Foch with the American commander General Pershing. This card is clearly meant to express our shared beliefs in liberty. The likeness of British General Haig and possibly the allegory Britannia stand further back. This positioning may just be a simple matter of artistic composition or a purposeful slight due to growing tensions over who would command the American Expeditionary Force in Europe.
While this French card is a general tribute to our American friends, the date 1917 gives it some context; it was when the United States declared war on Germany and the American Expeditionary Force began arriving in France. The Statue of Liberty is no longer just a famous landmark in New York Harbor, it stands as a surrogate for the United States, along with its values, for Right and Justice. This symbolism becomes common during the War years, and represents a major shift in the way the Statue of Liberty is seen. The United States, liberty, and the statue are all becoming interchangeable.
In this very complex political allegory we find the Kaiser along with General Hindenburg attempting to seize Eastern Europe. It also depicts an array of Allied soldiers moving forward together to put a stop to this. While this is a French postcard, only the American flag that shown; and the entire Allied cause is represented by the Statue of Liberty. Many British and French leaders came to resent the American presence in Europe during the Great War, for while they wanted American help they did not want American interference. In contrast many ordinary people were very grateful that the Americans had arrived, and quite a number of French postcard publishers went out of their way to emphasize the American role that led to victory.
This article consist of four parts; click on the links below to continue reading.Liberty part 1
Liberty part 3
Liberty part 4