Ask A Librarian

Puck, the Magazine, 1871 to 1918

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 5th, 2016

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Puck Magazine Masthead

At first glance, Puck may not be what you might consider one of the jewels among the collections in the Rare Book Room, however, it is an important publication that deserves its place in those rarified surroundings.  In its day, Puck was known as a magazine that satirized American politics and politicians, reporting events, sports and fashion trends throughout its run during the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century. 

Named after Shakespeare’s cherubic imp, Puck, from his play, A Midsummers’ Night’s Dream, the Puck magazine was created in his image, to poke fun at ourselves, our government officials, and our world.  The image of Shakespeare’s Puck, newly fitted with a top hat and coat, as seen above, adorned the cover of every issue and was often accompanied by the magazine’s motto, “What Fools These Mortals Be!,” a quote from the same Shakespearian play.  The Puck Building in New York was also adorned with his image.  Instead of the traditional gargoyle, Puck’s figure graces the building.  As you can see below, Puck holds a mirror to himself, a reflection of the magazine’s aim to observe and parody the country and the world at large.

Golden Statue of Puck

In large part, Puck’s popularity was due to humor accompanied by lavish illustration, often in full color.  The finest illustrators of the day worked for Puck including prominent cartoonists such as Louis Dalrymple, Bernhard Gillam, Livingston Hopkins, Frederick Burr Opper, Louis Glackens, Albert Levering, Frank Nankivell, J.S. Pughe, Rose O’Neill, Charles Taylor, James Albert Wales and Eugene Zimmerman.  Each issue of Puck had a colorful cover as well as a centerfold that tackled prominent issues.  Among the most popular of these centerfolds appeared in the March, 18, 1908 issue.

Puck magazine’s Women’s Suffrage centerfold, showing women in fancy dress at a bar, with children

Noted magazine illustrator, Harry Grant Dart was contracted by Puck’s editors to create a centerfold dedicated to satirizing the Women’s Suffrage Movement.  Dart’s illustration took women out of the home and placed them in a bar, smoking, drinking, betting and gambling, just like their husbands, with bewildered children in tow.  This must have been shocking indeed for the male readers of Puck but perhaps instead of satirizing women’s rights, to our modern day eyes, this centerfold places women on an equal footing with men.  Not only do women enjoy habits traditionally recognized as those more common to men of that era, but the bar itself crosses the gender line with a woman as owner.

Christmas 1902 cover of Puck, showing two women kissing Santa Puck magazine cover showing a woman dressed in red and snow Puck magazine cover showing two people wearing Votes for Women sashes

World politics, fashion, holidays, sports, were all topics for Puck’s.  Many of these subjects were represented on the magazine’s colorful covers, a major selling point.  By the time these images made the cover, Puck himself had moved away from the front making room for contemporary topics.

Puck magazine cover showing a web that says Wall Street and a Spider that says Flim Flam Finance Puck magazine cover showing a minstrel woman surrounded by dancing rabbits for Easter Puck magazine cover for New Years, showing 1910 as a broken down car and 1911 as a flying airplane

Puck topped the list of magazine firsts in its day: it was the first successful humor magazine, the first to print illustrated advertising, and the first to print full color lithographic illustrations.  Each thirty two page issue had a color cover, color centerfold and numerous black and white illustrations and cartoons by the best artists of the day.

Today, we can think of Puck as the precursor of the humorous magazines and television series we’re familiar with: Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, the Jon Stewart Daily Show and the Colbert Report, to name a few.  All of these poke fun at our politicians, celebrities and daily events, but Puck was the first to successfully explore these topics and tackle the big issues in a humorous and colorful format.

The Rare Book Room has a large run of Puck magazines available.  Your invitation is open to page through Puck and enjoy these beautiful, creative, and fascinating issues with subjects that aren’t far removed from those we tackle today. I think Shakespeare would be pleased.



Rare Book Room:  Puck: Call number 050 P954, 1895 – 1914


Puck Masthead:

Puck’s Women’s Suffrage centerfold:

Puck Covers:

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