In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s manufacturers of guns, munitions, and to a lesser extent fishing tackle, promoted their products with large colorful posters and calendars, featuring artwork commissioned from some of the finest illustrators of the era. I was recently introduced to this art form through Sid Latham’s book, Great Sporting Posters of the Golden Age (1978). This oversize volume, found in the Library’s Main Reading Room, showcases two dozen advertising posters.
Right away one notices the lack of product information on these posters. There are company names, and tag lines, but beyond that there are only the images. Rather than directly peddling their products, these companies seek to evoke the memories and feelings of a viewer’s own experience in the field, and to associate their products with those experiences.
Here we see the thrill of the chase. The image on the left was created for The Horton Manufacturing Company by Philip R. Goodwin (1917). The lake scene on the right is by an unknown artist and was created for The Laflin & Rand Powder Company (1904 or 1905). Quite a few of the posters in Latham’s book are by uncredited artists. He tells us that some artists would not sign their commercial work in order to maintain their reputations as fine artists. Apparently advertising work was considered undignified by some.
The next two posters highlight the beauty of the quarry. The pair of grouse on the left are by Edward Knoebel (1909) for The Winchester Repeating Arms Company. On the right, Gustave Muss-Arnolt places the viewer in the sky with a squadron of mallard ducks. This poster was created for The Peters Cartridge Company.
Some posters, like this one by Carl Rungius for the Savage Arms Company (1904), showcase the moment of victory.
This scene showing an unexpected occurrence sure to become an oft-told tale was done by an unknown artist for The Laflin & Rand Powder Company (1906).
Both of the posters below are by unnamed artists. They highlight a hunter’s working relationship and companionship with his dogs. The setters on the left were painted for The Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The hunter resting with his canine companions was created for Lefever Arms Company.
And of course, you can’t go wrong with puppies! These adorable chaps were painted for The Union Metallic Cartridge Company by an unknown artist (1904).
One of the reasons I think these illustrations are so evocative is that many of the artists were sporting men themselves. They spent time in the field and as a result their images have an authentic feel. In The Art of American Arms Makers (2004), we can see Philip R. Goodwin’s, Off for the Day’s Hunt, first as a preliminary water color sketch, next as the completed oil painting, and finally as a calendar for Winchester Guns and Cartridges. Goodwin hunted in Montana in 1907 and 1910. It’s likely that this scene is drawn from his experiences on those trips.
Once the readership of sporting magazines ballooned manufacturers began to reach out to their potential customers through that venue. There was no longer a need for the posters. Today they are quite collectible, and of course they remain as evocative as ever. In fact an added layer of nostalgia increases their beauty.
Beyond creating commercial posters, these artists illustrated books, painted, and sculpted. The Library’s collections contain many examples of their work, as well as books about their careers. The museum also holds examples of fine art created by some of the same artists.
Drop in and read about Lynn Bogue Hunt’s, or Carl Rungius’ life in The Main Reading Room, or view a set of hound portraits painted by Gustave Muss-Arnolt in the Museum’s permanent collection.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail