An extremely rare and perhaps unique variant of a celebrated “topsy-turvy” metamorphic caricature of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Following secession Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederacy, though he had been a staunch Unionist and until recently a United States Senator from Mississippi. Thenceforth until the end of the Civil War he was fair game for Northern caricaturists, who most famously depicted him disguised in petticoats as he tried to evade the Union Army. Offered here is another, significantly earlier Davis caricature, and arguably the most clever of the genre.
From one perspective, captioned “War,” the portrait is of an impressively mustachioed Jefferson Davis in uniform (The mustache was pure artistic license, as no life portrait shows Davis wearing one.) Below him are small vignettes of stirring scenes of battle and four lines of verse:
“With lion heart and frantic mien,
The warrior seeks the battle scene,
To risk his precious blood and fight
For glory and his vaunted right.”
Rotated 180 degrees, the caption reads “Peace” and depicts a forlorn jackass, Davis’ mustache now transformed into a ludicrous pair of ears. Vignettes below the image depict pastoral scenes and Davis apparently returning home mounted on an ass, with another piece of verse providing commentary:
“But when he hears the cannon road,
And views the dying in his gore,
His courage fails and then, alas!
He homeward travels like an ass.”
A version of this caricature first appeared on a ca. 1861 lettersheet, attributed to Edward Rogers and published by Samuel Curtis Upham. Nancy Finlay, in her Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, dates this Kellog and Whiting edition to 1861-62, which comports with the career of publisher George Whiting, who was at the 87 Fulton Street address through 1862.
Rarity and references
This caricature is rare: I have been able to locate only five institutional copies, while RareBookHub lists a mere three examples offered at auction since 1925. The example offered here may be unique: It appears to be the only one with the name “Jeff. Davis” stenciled–not printed–in the margin. Furthermore, all the institutional copies have the added subtitles “Jeff. Rampant.” and “Jeff. Subdued” above and below the portrait.
The five institutional copies are as follows:
- Formatted as a jigsaw puzzle, attributed to E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, though the entry is vague as to whether the imprint is actually present on the item. OCLC 232637115 (Boston Athenaeum).
- Imprint of E.B. & E.C. Kellogg and George Whiting. Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880 (Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 2009), #454. Also held in the Peters Collection at the Smithsonian, though not listed in America on Stone.
- Imprint of E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, George Whiting and Golden & Sammons. OCLC 993956780 (American Antiquarian Society) and 210079646 (Vermont Historical).
Much background on the publication history of this image may be found in E. Sanchez-Saavedra, “A Metamorphic View of Jefferson Davis” at the Yesterday’s Papers blog, Aug. 23, 2012 (accessed March 2021).