The Old Print Shop


  • ARTIST: Thomas Nast

  • PUBLISHER: Published by Harper's Weekly. November 9, 1878.

  • MEDIUM: Wood engraving,

    DATE: 1878.

  • EDITION SIZE: Image size 20 1/8 x 13 1/8" (51.1 x 33.4 cm).

  • DESCRIPTION: 1878 was a tough year for the United States. The Long Depression (1873-1879) was raging and the government was embroiled in intense financial debates. In January the Matthew's Resolution passed in the House of Representatives, allowing silver, which had been previously removed from the money standard, to be used to pay off public debts, such as government issued bonds. It was quickly followed by the Bland–Allison Act in Congress, requiring the Treasury to re-instituted silver into the money standard. The Act had originally been vetoed by President Hayes but Congress overrode the veto on February 23 to see it through. Silver had been removed in 1873 because it was causing inflation. Large silver mines had been discovered in the west and the value of silver coins had plummeted as a result. Gold, on the other hand, was more stable. Naturally, owners of silver mines were outraged and cried for the government to reconsider. Their cries only became louder when the Panic of 1873 hit and lead the country into the Long Depression. <br><br> The year also held a slight overturn of the Resumption Act of 1875. Greenback (paper money) were originally instituted during the Civil War to help pay for the war effort. Like silver, however, they were causing inflation and adversaries wanted them gradually removed and replaced with hard money (currency that followed the gold standard, usually in coin (specie) format). Supporters of greenbacks wanted their production to be increased, however, because they hoped the rise in inflation would ease the financial pains of business across the country. It was a short term fix that adversaries feared would damage the country in the long run. Pro-specie politicians had a small victory through the Resumption Act of 1875, when the Treasury was ordered to ramp up coin production so the public could start turning in greenbacks by 1879. The hope was to reduce the number of bills in circulation by over $100 million. Pro-greenback supporters managed to overturn part of the Act in 1878 by lessening the number greenback to be reclaimed. What's more, 1878 was a congressional election year for the House of Representatives. The election had taken place six days prior to the publication of this cartoon. So the artist, Thomas Nast, is likely calling for the people to stand up against inflation-supporting politicians because it would lead to the demise of the country. <br><br> In the cartoon Columbia, the personification of America, is assisting a frightened, tired dog out of a raging river called "Inflation - Failure." In his mouth is a parcel reading "Our Debt." Behind them hard working Americans race to assist Columbia in saving the dog (the country). They work for a factory that hold the banner "Resumption of 1879. Honest money and work," referencing the importance of working for a living. <br><br> In the foreground the Democratic party, shown through the donkey and fox, have fallen victim to a waterfall of their own making (many Democrats were supporters of greenbacks). Falling just out of reach of the fox is a paper reading "Political tricks" and just out of reach of the donkey is "Silver $ 412 1/2 grains," which references the return of silver into the money standard. The flotsam and jetsam running down the river tell the story of greenback history, starting in the distant background with "War," and working forward through "Wild-Cat land for sale," "Work shop," "N.W. & Pacific R.R.," "Gambling House. Savings Bank. Fire Ins.," "R.R. Stocks," "Bankruptcy. Ruin" and "Inflation Interests." <br.><br> Another point of interest in this cartoon is the dam. It separates the destructive forces of inflation from the "Honest Money & Work" supporters on the right. Their side of the river is pristine and filled with life and commerce.


  • CONDITION: Good condition, save a stain in the upper margin.