Browsing the Iselin Collection

By Jeff Hill | May 30, 2024

In 2023, the Library was the grateful recipient of a major gift — a collection of humor and illustration, mainly of social and political satire — from retired attorney Josephine Lea Iselin, a noted collector of illustrated books, prints, manuscripts, and ephemera. The collection, housed in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, is relevant to fields ranging from art and literature to political science, history, and media studies, and will find broad use in research, instruction, exhibition, and outreach.

Here, we take a close look at just a few of the more than 900 items in the Iselin Collection of Humor.

An artfully arranged stack of books in fine bindings is surrounded by an open book showing colorful caricature drawing and a single illustration. The illustration, only partially visible, shows a drawing of a cornucopia-like bag in front of a pedestal with a fire atop it. On the pedestal is inscribed “A New Pantheon of Democratic Mythology.”
The Iselin Collection includes 20th-century books of humor and an adjunct sample of 19th- and 20th-century American illustrated fiction, but the centerpiece of the collection is 19th-century English and French material by recognized giants of the genre of satire and caricature. A sampling of the materials (shown here) includes lithographs by the French illustrator Charles Amédée de Noé (Cham), bound books featuring illustrations by British caricaturist George Cruikshank, and “New Pantheon of Democratic Mythology” (1799), in which James Gillray, a major influence on Cruikshank, satirized the Whig politicians of the day.
A black and white drawing shows a two-headed eagle bearing a sword in one hand and carrying a partially clothed man in the other. Above them in the clouds sits a man wearing a plumed hat.
Auguste Desperet was a French lithographer active in the mid-19th century. This dark yet whimsical 1834 drawing, a parody of the Greek myth of Ganymede, transforms the eagle of Zeus into the two-headed eagle of Russia, bearing away Ganymede (King Louis Philippe of France, in short pants) up to the clouds, where Jupiter (Tsar Nicholas I) is waiting.
A hand holds a book open to a colorful illustration of a great commotion: a man in a parlor throws up his hands and runs while others fall over a table or run in behind him. A crowd watches through large windows.
R.S. Surtees’ John Jorrocks, a Cockney English grocer enamored of the sporting life, is one of the great comic characters in British popular literature of the 19th century. “Oh gentlemen! Gentlemen! Here’s a lamentable occurrence!,” an illustration by Henry Thomas Alken from Surtees’ “Jorrocks Jaunts and Jollities” (1869), depicts “Mr. Jorrocks” causing his usual ruckus.
An accordion-folded book, partially unfolded and set on a table to show a number of illustrations purporting to instruct the reader on matters of etiquette.
“Etiquette Illustrated” — an 1848 leporello (a book with alternating accordion or concertina folds) by the English illustrator and cartoonist Thomas Onwhyn. “Etiquette Illustrated” includes 23 pages of satirical sketches instructing the reader how (not) to “conduct oneself in the best society.”
Several books lie on a table, one has a visible title, “No Popery!” An inset shows that book, in which the pages are one long accordion fold, unfolded to show the illustrations within.
Another leporello in the Iselin Collection is “No Popery!: A Protestant Roland for a Popish Oliver” (1850), a fold-out of 23 prints by “Anti Guy” (actually journalist, writer, and illustrator George Augustus Sala). “No Popery!” was published as part of the backlash against the revival of Catholic doctrine in the Church of England. Sala apparently intentionally designed the tract as over the top and perhaps tongue in cheek, referring in his autobiography to the “awfully ominous pictures, threatening Protestant England with the most fearful disasters if the Pope, the Cardinal, and the insidious Puseyites were allowed to have their wicked way.” 
Detail of a row of books in fine bindings on a shelf. The books, with French titles, are by Francoise Fabre, Louis Benoit, André Gill, and Jonathan Swift.
Many of the French titles included in the collection feature fine bindings. Titles seen here include an 1840 satire of the French medical system illustrated by Honoré Daumier; an 1832 satire on Louis Philippe with principal illustrations by J.J. Grandville; “Vingt Années de Paris” (Twenty Years of Paris) by the caricaturist André Gill; and a French edition of a title familiar to many modern readers: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” — all in sumptuous bindings with bands and gilt lettering.
Marbled boards with a label of black with gold gilt frame and lettering next to two illustrated plates, one of which is mostly obscured. The label reads “Sir Frog He Would A Wooing Go,” and the plate that can be plainly seen shows a frog and a mouse drinking together.
Also familiar may be “Sir Frog He Would A Wooing Go,” an adaption of a 16-century Scottish folk song known to many as “Froggie Went a-Courtin.” Shown here are two plates (from a series of six) by British illustrator Edward Hull, along with marbled board folder and gilt label. The plates tell the story of the frog who courted a mouse — the illustration featured here is titled “Pray Mrs. Mouse will you give us some beer, That Froggy and I may make good cheer.”
A stack of 5 gray boxes, with labels affixed to them revealing that they contain materials by the French artist Honoré Daumier.
The Iselin Collection came to UVA in wonderful condition. These prints by Daumier, the prolific French painter, sculptor, and illustrator, arrived in metal-edged archival flat storage boxes, used for prints and oversize material.
A line drawing shows a pastoral scene of a woman attended by consorts reclining amongst sheep while cupids, satyrs, and young men and women frolic all around them.
Gustave Doré was a renowned French printmaker well known for his illustrations of works by writers including Rabelais, Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Poe. The Iselin Collection includes numerous works by Doré, including “A Pastoral Under Louis XV” — a plate from his comic album of “Folies Gauloises” (Gallic Follies), 1852 or 1859.
A book open to a watercolor drawing of a young woman and an adolescent filling glasses from a small fount framed by a wrought-iron fence.
The collection includes numerous original drawings by the English artists Isaac, Robert, and George Cruikshank. The drawing seen here of two charming figures filling glasses from a picturesque fountain is the work of George Cruikshank, the Victorian caricaturist perhaps most well-known for his illustrations for Dickens’ “Sketches by Boz” and “Oliver Twist,” as well as his collaborations with other authors and his satirical contributions to leading publications of the time.
A book, open to a color page that folds out to show an illustration. The illustration is of a battle fought with horses and cannon.
William Henry Ireland’s “Life of Napoleon Bonaparte” (1822-28), in four volumes, is notable in the Iselin Collection of Humor for being neither satire, caricature, or humor — but it contains 27 fold-out plates engraved by George Cruikshank, of which all but three are colored by hand. The plate shown here, “Napoleon terminating his military carreer, [sic] at the memorable battle of Waterloo,” depicts Napoleon astride a white horse and surrounded by lancers, cannon smoke, and the dying and wounded.
A book open to a black and white drawing of figures representing the symbols of the Zodiac. They are holding hands and apparently circling around the earth.
The full subtitle of caricaturist J.J. Grandville’s 1844 “Un Autre Monde” (Another World) says it all:  Transformations, Visions, Incarnations, Ascensions, Locomotions, Explorations, Peregrinations, Excursions, Vacations, Caprices, Cosmologies, Reveries, Whimsies, Phantasmagorias, Apotheosies, Zoomorphisms, Lithomorphosies, Metamorphoses, and Other Things. The book is page after page of surreal and fantastical art, including this drawing showing the 12 signs of the zodiac dancing the sarabande in the sky.