Civil War

Comprising some of the most diverse materials in the collection, our Civil War-related holdings include not only books but also recruiting posters, photographs, comic valentines, song sheets, playbills, pictorial envelopes, lottery tickets, paper money, leaflets, handbills, fans, humorous moveable “transformation” cards, ribbons, buttons, tickets, trade cards, and much more. Much of what we own came to us from the collection of John McAllister, Jr. and his son, John A. McAllister, nineteenth-century Philadelphia antiquarians. Items in the McAllister collection alone number some 50,000 pieces and include, in addition to printed material, graphics and manuscripts. With grant funding, the McAllister Collection is being conserved and cataloged to improve preservation and access.

The recruiting posters are the gems of the McAllister Collection. Often oversized (up to 8 feet tall) and printed on multiple sheets, they were printed using eye-catching colors, large ornamental type, and dynamic wood engravings. They document changing recruiting strategies for Union troops during the War (for example, increasing the monetary incentive for volunteering when patriotic resolve began to wane) and demonstrate cutting-edge printing techniques.

Other pieces of ephemera include those related to Union money-making activities, such as the Sanitary Fairs organized by women who wanted to help the cause. Circulars asking for donations of goods and services, tickets to fund-raising balls and fairs, advertising posters, and even souvenir fans from the events are included in the collection. An extensive group of Civil War stationery –envelopes embellished with political cartoons and allegorical figures and pieces of letterhead illustrating camp scenes – evince the massive output by printers for whom soldiers were their steady consumers.

More durable pamphlets and books related to the War include innumerable political tracts, treatises on surgery in the field, fictional tales of intrigue, and camp songsters. They give voice to both soldiers in the field and politicians, such as Lincoln, making the crucial decisions of the day.