Author of "The Illustrator in America: 1865 to 2000"
The life and career of J. C. Lincoln fortuitously coincided with the Golden Age of American Illustration and the dominance of the American magazines as a primary medium for education and entertainment.
The son of a sea captain, as a writer Lincoln could draw up the history of his New England seafaring forebears and he grew up in a small town society which still embodied many of their same Yankee virtues.
He also had a ready market for his stories. The magazine’s subscribers lists were burgeoning and publications vied with each other for popular writers and for the best illustrators of their fiction. The list of illustrators of Lincoln’s novels and short stories was a virtual “Who’s Who” of the field.
Like most beginning writers Lincoln started in the smaller magazines which couldn’t afford the big name illustrators, although he was connected with some who were on their way up and became big names later. John Sloan and William Glackens who were later members of “The Eight” were early Lincoln illustrators. Several women illustrators were also early Lincoln artists including May Wilson Preston (a former James McNeil Whistler student) and Charlotte Harding – a Howard Pyle student- with several male Pyle students such as Emlen McConnell, John Wolcott Adams, Gayle Hoskins and Harold Brett. The latter had one of the longest-running connections with Lincoln.
Among the major talents employed were Arthur Burdett Frost, Edward Kemble, Thomas Fogarty, Wallace Morgan, Frederick R. Gruger, Herbert Morton Stoops, Donald Teague and Anton Otto Fischer. Perhaps the two most successful illustrators in interpreting Lincoln were at the apex of his career – Matt Clark and Mead Schaeffer, who both focused on the story characters and both had some color at their command although it was usually two colors rather than four. Schaeffer particularly had a strong bold painting style; used a lot of silhouettes or vignettes to emphasize the characters themselves rather thn the settings.
A survey listing, by no means complete, includes some 60 different artists whose illustrations accompanied Lincoln stories, many of whom did more than one.
Most of Lincoln’s writings were also published in book form after their initial magazine appearances. Short stories were assembled into book length and popular books went into several editions. Occasionally the same artist was published in both magazine and book versions, but usually not. And, if repeated, the books used only a portion of the pictures. The reason was economics. With a readership in the millions, magazines could afford to commission and publish a lot of pictures for each issue. Book publishers, whose numbers of sales would be confined to the thousands, did not have the same budget for lavish use of artwork. These same constraints led them to hire more affordable but second-tier artists – hence there were virtually two sets of illustrations affiliated with each of Lincoln’s stories.
Despite the large number of illustrations commissioned for Lincoln’s works over the year, relatively few of them still exist. After printing plates were made there was no further need for the artwork itself and there was no market place for obsolete illustrations (The general public never really knew that there were original drawings or painting involved). Most of the pictures were simply discarded by the publisher or the engravers after use.
Only in the past 30-40 years has there become an increasing interest in finding and collecting those illustrations that have survived. The rediscovery process has revealed the extraordinary competence of many of their creators and led to a new appreciation by collectors and museums of this rich artistic heritage.