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A Topsy-Turvy Jeff Davis

September 27th, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe · No Comments

The blog Yesterday’s Papers, published by the Canadian cartoonist and illustrator John Adcock, is a minor miracle. And while I could bore you with praise, I will instead shamelessly steal the guts of a recent post by E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra—one that I hope will brilliantly underscore the ways in which the Internet can be exactly like your old neighbor who invites you to check out the sweet comic-book collection he has in his basement.

Only not as creepy, I promise.

Anyway, in this post, Sanchez-Saavedra introduces us to metamorphic visual effects, a pop-culture fad of the nineteenth century that “used a variety of tricks to achieve images that could be manipulated by the viewer to produce different pictures.” A rather crude but oddly entertaining version of this was the topsy-turvy picture, in which the viewer turned an image upside down and, voilà! another image!

A classic metamorphic image, copyrighted by E. Rogers and published by S.C. Upham of Philadelphia in 1861, is entitled “Jeff. Davis going to War / Jeff. Returning from War An [Ass]” [see above] It occupies the top half of a lightly-ruled letter sheet and is printed sideways in blue ink. When folded and viewed one way, we see a warlike face with huge mustaches and an odd asiatic headgear. Rotated 180 degrees, the mustaches become ears, the cap  becomes a muzzle, and the face is that of a mournful jackass.

Edward Rogers was a “shadowy” figure whose work appeared in various places on a freelance basis. Samuel Curtis Upham, meanwhile, was responsible for flooding the Confederacy with fake currency, like the five-spot below.

He took his cut of the topsy-turvy money and made Jefferson Davis “topsy-turvy” stationery, advertising letter sheets for $1/100 and $8/1,000 and envelopes, like the one below, at 50 cents/100 and $4/1,000. “Should you wish to engage in the sale of them,” Upham’s ad read, “which I advise you to do, as I know by experience that they will sell rapidly, please address all correspondence to S.C. Upham, 310 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.”

Sanchez-Saavedra continues with the story:

Although to modern sensibilities, the Davis topsy-turvy is a feeble jape at best, it was popular enough to warrant a more elaborate hand-colored lithographic version in 1864 [see below], published by Edmund Burke Kellogg and Elijah Chapman Kellogg of Hartford, Connecticut, and their co-publishers Carlos L. Golden and Thomas J. Sammons of Chicago, Illinois, and George Whiting in New York.

The first view features “WAR” and reads: “With lion heart and frantic mien, / The warrior seeks the battle scene, / To risk his precious blood and fight / For glory and his vaunted right.” The second view, “PEACE,” reads: “But when he hears the cannon roar, / And views the dying in his gore, / His courage fails and then, alas! / He homeward travels like an ass.”

Apparently topsy-turvy Jeff Davis even outlived the Civil War, because in the 1880s, C. A. Jackson & Co., a tobacco company based in Petersburg, issued its own version, printed by Donaldson Brothers of Five Points, New York [see below].

The upside, which features the ass this time, reads: “I was a most consummate ass, / For nothing human could I pass. / I got a chew of Jackson’s Best.’ / Invert this card and know the rest.” Okay! The downside reads: “My worthy friend, if ever you / Should want a really first class chew. / Use Jackson’s Best, or you will be / An ass, like I was formerly.”

The post in Yesterday’s Papers, from which we have, as mentioned before, been shamelessly stealing, doesn’t even end there, so check it out.

My worthy friend, if ever you
Should want a really first class read
Check out Yesterday’s Papers, or you will be
An ass, like I was formerly.

Tags: Virginia History · Visual History

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