Charles Magnus, Patriotic Civil War Propaganda Printmaker

This post was written by Leanne Fortney, who began working with us in March as a Graduate Student Assistant within Research Services. Her main responsibilities are safeguarding our materials and assisting patrons with their research needs. She is a mother of two working on her MA in Art History with an interest in U.S. modern art between World War I and World War II. 

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In the United States, the Civil War created such a great demand for patriotic propaganda. Printmakers, such as Charles Magnus, produced over a thousand illustrations within the course of the war. This entire Northern Virginia Civil War images collection consists of nearly 200 images on various historical subjects in a variety of formats, including wood engravings, steel engravings, lithographs, chromolithographs, maps, and manuscripts from three periodicals: The Illustrated London News, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, and Harper’s Weekly. Most of the images depict battles and maps of the Civil War. The maps include the cities of Arlington and Alexandria and the counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William. Columbia Pike, Chain Bridge, Long Bridge, the Little River Turnpike, Centreville and Manassas all existed at the time of the Civil War and all of them are represented or referenced in these images.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Magnus’s Civil War illustrations depicted scenes of civil war camps, battles, and portraits of military officials, but he specialized primarily in decorative patriotic stationary such as cards and envelopes. Although pictorial images comprise the majority of the collection, there are also numerous maps, most of which were produced by lithography. A number were produced for military purposes and employed by both the North and South alike. Maps made during the Civil War were often exceedingly accurate; their usefulness carried on into the twentieth century. Magnus’s lithograph series entitled, “Bird’s Eye View of Alexandria, Va”, are illustrated on well-preserved envelopes that are no larger than 3 inches by 5 inches and include a few that are hand colored! In 1798, German inventor, Alois Senefelder, created an innovated and revolutionary printmaking process that is now known as lithography. Lithography allows for artists to produce an unlimited set of images. This enabled Magnus to keep up with the high demands for his patriotic illustrations.

Illustrations like these have been created and used by the public to highlight news events, political satire, coverage of wars, marriages, and even celebrity (like Kings, Queens, Popes, etc.) outings. The practice of creating woodblock prints has been around since at least 220 C.E. with the Han Dynasty. Eventually, through the use of removable type and the invention of the printing press, artists were able to distribute their images over an even larger population.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Northern Virginia Civil War images, #C0150 folder 2, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.

 

New Collection-Prince William County Historic Newspapers

Special Collections Research Center received a new collection of historic local newspapers from the Prince William County Library in November 2016. We have been working to reorganize and address preservation needs of these papers for future use by our patrons. The papers in this collection date roughly from 1861 to 1992. They are currently organized by date and paper title which has been split up into six series. The series are:

  • The Manassas Journal
  • The Prince William News
  • The Manassas Messenger
  • The Journal Messenger
  • Potomac News
  • Miscellaneous
    • This contains article clippings and issues from other papers like the Alexandria Gazette, The Fauquier Democrat, The Richmond News Leader, and The Richmond Times-Dispatch

We began processing this collection in January and have just finished boxing the documents and created the Finding Aid in early February.

Processing Coordinator and Manuscript and Archives Librarian looking through new collections in the processing area of Special Collections Research Center.

Along the way, we found many interesting articles. One article that stood out to us came from The State:

“A Woman in Pants” from The State. Undated but between 1870’s to 1890’s.

And of course the advertisements are always entertaining, like these from The Manassas Messenger dated November 15, 1951:

“Magic skin bodies…”

 

So if you are doing research on local history, love newspapers, or just have some free time, stop by and check out the new Prince William County Historic Newspaper collection, #C0301! The finding aid is now up on our website and you can find it here by searching our collections alphabetically or by subject under Northern Virginia and Regional History. You may also e-mail us at speccoll@gmu.edu or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.