Researching political cartoons and caricatures inevitably leads to uncovering things I cannot hope to understand. For example, this man is depicted as an ice cream maker:
(I mean, I get it, he’s W. H. Ballard of the Ballard Ice Cream Company, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept this unholy union of man and hand grinder.)
Another curious thing is the reoccurring trope of “there was an old dude who rode around in a shoe.” This comes up with surprising frequency in a variety of geographic variations on the theme “as we see ’em,” caricature anthologies that feature “great white men” (usually railway barons, a befuddling number of piano salesmen, architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and the like — often astride comically tiny trains — dating from the early twentieth century) from various cities (mainly) in North America.
So far, I’ve uncovered “as we see ’em” anthologies or rough equivalents for Canada, Chicago, Milwaukee, Manitoba, Illinois, British Columbia, Indianapolis, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, St. Louis, Los Angeles, New Haven, Adrian (Michigan), California, Kansas City, Madison, Toronto, Michigan, Colorado, Nevada, and New Zealand. There’s also something a bit different out of London.
My interest in these strange books was sparked by two library visits – one in Canada and one in Chicago – where I stumbled upon books with strikingly similar titles of “[City dwellers] as we see ’em” and contained boilerplate preface pages. They are of varying lengths. For example, New Haven’s collection is understandably much shorter than Michigan’s collection of turn-of-the-century business tycoons willing to pay to be included in the book of caricatures.
What to do with things you don’t understand? Share them with the internet, of course!
Insightful guesses welcome. Actually, all guesses are welcome! What does the shoe mean to you? Why are those dudes inside the shoes? Is such a thing even possible in real life?!
Of course it is, because this is the internet.
– I.T.C.H. (International Team of Comics Historians) has a series of posts on these “Local Vanity Cartoon Books” dating back to 2010 if you’re interested in seeing more.
– Pikitia Press has some excerpts from New Zealanders as we see ’em: 1934-35 in a 2012 blog post.
– Wikipedia has a bit more information about the Seattle vanity book.
– I’ll be posting many of the carto-caricatures I found in these anthologies over at the Blue Sky GIS blog of Map Cartoons. There are so many that I think it will take the entire year (since I only post on Mondays) to get to all of them!
If anyone knows more about these wacky books, please get in touch – I have follow up questions!