Exhibition Themes

Collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, courtesy of the Flagler Museum.

Puck‘s cartoons were recognized for their artistic value even at the height of their popular appeal. In 1901 the magazine began offering past drawings for sale as original artworks; those who couldn’t afford them framed full-color centerfolds straight from the magazine. Created by well-known illustrators as well as new talent, these bold cartoons simultaneously reflected and defined the concerns of the Gilded Age, while pushing the boundaries of humor.

Modern Life
As American culture and etiquette began to incorporate new inventions like the telephone, automobile, and trolley car, modernity became rife with awkward situations that provided rich material for Puck’s cartoonists. Laughter also offered a way to cope with the rapid changes taking place in society at the turn of the 20th century.

Social Commentary
Many pages were dedicated to political satire in the early years of Puck’s publication. Cartoonists took a ruthless approach to the topics of corruption, greed, and monopolies, while advocating the rights of the common citizen. The peak of the magazine’s popularity was in 1884, when it leapt into the fervor of the presidential race to support Grover Cleveland against James Blaine.

Love and Marriage
The trials and joys of love, courtship, and marriage have never failed to provide humorists with an abundance of material. Puck cartoons often portrayed stereotypes that still exist today, such as the nagging wife, negligent husband, and alluring fiancé.

Culture and Society
Founder and editor Joseph Keppler, Sr. made a name for himself as an actor in his native Austria before immigrating to the United States. Puck celebrated the arts, featuring humorous versions of famous paintings and flattering depictions of cultural figures, entertainers, and musicians. At the same time, popular fashions were often ridiculed. Typical cartoons portrayed characters in absurdly large hats or wearing jewels the size of baseballs.

Cast of Characters
Puck propagated human stereotypes of all stripes, from Irish immigrants to uneducated Southerners. They ranged from humorous and harmless to biting and dehumanizing. Signs of a time before political correctness, these cartoons exaggerated physical features, clothing, and vernacular as shortcuts to identifying types.

Cornball Humor
Before Puck, humor was a rare section in local newspapers and other periodicals. But the magazine inspired many imitators, and soon a wide variety of jokes filled the newsstands. During its forty-year life, Puck shaped the evolution of American humor, from corny jokes and puns to more urbane and literary humor.

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