McLoughlin Bros. Collection

Brief History of the McLoughlin Bros.

McLoughlin Bros., Inc. was a New York publishing firm that pioneered the systematic use of color printing technologies in children's books, particularly between 1858 and 1920. The firm's publications served to popularize illustrators including Thomas Nast, William Momberger, Justin H. Howard, Palmer Cox, and Ida Waugh. The artistic and commercial roots of the McLoughlin firm were first developed by John McLoughlin, Jr. (1827-1905), who as a teenager learned wood engraving and printing while working for Elton & Co.--a New York firm formed by his father John McLoughlin, Sr. and engraver/printer Robert H. Elton. Elton & Co. (active 1840-1851) printed and issued toy books, comic almanacs, and valentines. Between 1850 and 1851, John McLoughlin, Sr. and Robert H. Elton retired--giving John Jr. control of the business. (1) He started to publish picture books under his own name, and soon acquired the printing blocks of Edward Dunigan, a New York picture book publisher for whom Robert Elton had executed many wood engravings.

According to John McLoughlin, Jr.'s obituary in Publishers' Weekly (May 6, 1905), he made his younger brother Edmund McLoughlin (1833 or 4-1889) a partner in 1855. However, the firm was not listed in New York city directories as McLoughlin Bros. until 1858. During the early years of this partnership, the product line expanded to include non-book toys including games, blocks, and paper dolls.

By 1863, the firm had expanded from its original headquarters at 24 Beekman St. to include 30 Beekman St. John McLoughlin, Jr. continually experimented with color illustration--progressing from hand stenciling, to the mechanical relief process of zinc etching, to the planographic process of chromolithography. In light of the firm's commercial and creative development, McLoughlin Bros. moved to 52 Greene St. in May 1870, and subsequently moved the main New York office to 71 Duane St. in February 1871. (2) In this same year, the McLoughlin firm opened a color printing factory at South 11th and Berry St. in Brooklyn. This factory employed as many as 75 artists, and is the probable site of the firm's experimentation with color reproduction techniques. By the 1880s, McLoughlin books were regularly featuring titles in folio formats, illustrated by chromolithographs. A number of titles were probably "pirate" editions of picture books issued in England by firms like George Routledge & Sons.

After Edmund McLoughlin's retirement in 1885, the firm's New York office was moved several times over the next twenty years to the following addresses: 623 Broadway (1886-ca. 1892); 874 Broadway (1892-1898); 890 Broadway (1899-ca.1920). The firm received some new leadership when John McLoughlin, Jr.'s sons James G. and Charles joined the firm after Edmund's retirement. By 1886, the firm published a wide range of items including cheap chapbooks, large folio picture books, linen books, puzzles, games and paper dolls. (3)

After John McLoughlin, Jr.'s death in 1905, the McLoughlin firm suffered from the loss of his artistic and commercial leadership. In 1920, McLoughlin Bros., Inc. was sold to Milton Bradley, the Brooklyn factory was closed, and the company was moved to Springfield, Mass. With this sale, McLoughlin Bros. ceased game production, although the publication of picture books continued. McLoughlin Bros. enjoyed some success in the 1930s with mechanical paper toys called "Jolly Jump-Ups," but the McLoughlin division of Milton Bradley stopped production during World War II.

Between 1950 and 1951--apparently amid the threat of liquidation, the McLoughlin Bros. executive officers divided among themselves the firm's archival collection of books, drawings, company correspondence, illustration blocks, paper dolls, free standing wooden dolls, puzzles, and games. In December 1951, the McLoughlin Bros. trademark was sold to New York toy manufacturer Julius Kushner. Under Kushner's leadership, some popular favorites like the Jolly Jump-Ups were reissued. However, the McLoughlin line of children's books was sold to Grosset & Dunlap in June 1954. Since that date, several books bearing the McLoughlin Bros. imprint were issued, but the name dropped out of print by the 1970s. Since 1970, McLoughlin products have enjoyed great popularity with collectors, and their visibility continues through displays at book fairs and in catalogs like New York book dealer Justin Schiller's Catalogue 35 (1978) devoted to McLoughlin wood engraving blocks.

— Laura Wasowicz, Curator of Childrens' Literature

(1) The New York city directory published in 1851 lists John McLoughlin, Jr. on his own as a bookseller.
(2) "John McLoughlin [obituary]," Publishers' Weekly, 67 (May 6, 1905):1286-1287.
(3) Catalogue of toy books. (New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1886).

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