Featured Acquisition


Circular advertisement for Jeff. Davis Letter Sheet. (Philadelphia: S. C. Upham, 1861).


Circular advertisement for Jeff. Davis Letter Sheet. (Philadelphia: S. C. Upham, 1861). Click on image for larger view.

Philadelphia shopkeeper Samuel Curtis Upham, self-described as a printer of “mementoes of the Rebellion” and described by Southerners as a counterfeiter of Confederate notes, used the Civil War to his economic advantage. As a stationer, Upham recognized early the profit to be had from the marketing of patriotic and anti-Confederate paper novelties during the war. Envelopes and letter-sheets became ways to display Union patriotism and to mock the Confederacy. This 1861 circular advertising an anamorphic caricature of Jefferson Davis represents both Upham’s methods of promoting his business and a biting portrayal of the President of the C.S.A.


This innovative advertisement, from the McAllister Collection of Civil War ephemera, contains a popular image of Davis that was co-opted and redesigned for use by stationery printers during the war. From 1861 to 1862, a Civil War envelope collecting craze seized the Union. This image, “Jeff Davis going to War. Jeff. Returning from War,” originally copyrighted by Philadelphia engraver Edward Rogers, was one of about 6,000 designs issued and reissued on envelopes as well as stationery. The caricature morphs from the face of a mustached soldier with a cap to the head of a mule depending on the orientation of the piece.


Printed in June 1861, the circular, designed as a letter printed on the advertised “Jeff. Davis Letter Sheet,” was used by Upham to enlist agents to sell it and the complementary “Jeff. Davis Envelope.” Agents could purchase between 100 and 1,000 pieces of the stationery for between $11 and about $175 in today’s prices. As he did with most of his advertisements, Upham ends his promotion for the products by stating, “Should you wish to engage in the sale of them, which I would advise you to do, as I know by experience that they will sell rapidly, please address all orders to...”


The circular also includes an “N.B.” warning from Upham about copyright infringement. Ironically, within two years of the issuance of this circular, the stationer who threatened “Having purchased the above copyright ... Any one selling without my authority will be prosecuted” was investigated by the Federal government for counterfeiting.


Erika Piola, Visual Materials Cataloguer