Originally posted Sept. 2010
A hundred years ago, before Facebook, Twitter, and all our modern wonders, Americans were enthralled by the possibilities of a new medium, the picture postcard. In the early years of the twentieth century, millions of postcards flew through the mail every year. Other than the telephone, they were perhaps the quickest and most convenient medium of communication available. Postage was a penny and delivery came as often as twice a day. You didn't have to wait long or pay much to send a message (or a mash note) to a friend. Printers and publishers rushed to fill the demand, and a young artist from Indiana was Johnny-on-the-spot. His name was Cobb Shinn, and at the height of his career, his postcard designs sold twenty-five million units a year.
Conrad X. Shinn, later known as "Cobb" or "Uncle Cobb," was born on Sept. 4, 1887, in Fillmore, Indiana, and grew up on the west side of Indianapolis. He studied at the Herron School of Art under William Forsyth and William Merle Allison (later a comic book artist of note). In 1907, at the outset of Shinn's art career, the first postcards with divided backs appeared. That development freed up the front of the card for graphic embellishment. Shinn jumped into postcard design and eventually created 165 different series involving cars, drunks, kids, and pretty women. He also illustrated verse by the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley.
Once the picture-postcard craze died down, Shinn drew cartoon features for newspapers and illustrations for children's books. In the 1920s he went into the business of selling what we now call clip art. Cobb Shinn married Ramona Bowin in 1925, and the couple lived near Greenwood, south of Indianapolis. Shinn was described as "a cheerful man who liked to study people, smoked cigars occasionally, and had a homespun sense of humor." Uncle Cobb died on Jan. 28, 1951, and was buried in his native soil.
You can read more about Cobb Shinn in Sylvia C. Henricks' "Sharp Mind and Clever Pen" in the Winter 1997 issue of Traces, the magazine of the Indiana Historical Society (the source of the quote above).
|The cover of Cobb Shinn's Fun-Artists Picture-Show-Book (1924), a compilation of shadow plays, magic tricks, riddles, rebuses, and other activities, perhaps taken from Shinn's newspaper features. . .|
And a picture from the book with a saying as true now as it has ever been.
Note: This posting is taken from my website and the first of my Cartoonist of the Month entries. Wait awhile, and I'll have my blog and website up to date.
Text and captions copyright 2011 by Terence E. Hanley