While researching an artist, born in West Virginia, I learned about a newspaper for which he sketched the illustrations. The name of the newspaper was Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
I immediately went online to see if I could find a copy or reprint or some facsimile of one of the papers so I could envision what it was like to hold the paper and read it, as one would have in the 1860s. Much to my surprise, I was able to find an (relatively) inexpensive original newspaper and I gladly paid the $21.93 (including shipping) for the purchase.
This is the front page of the newspaper I received:
The NY Public Library has several (if not all) of the scanned images of the sketches from the Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspapers. To see those sketches, click HERE.
The newspaper was a special edition so it is not cut at the top and folds out to a massive sheet. I will eventually have all of the delicate paper scanned and discuss the contents but for the sake of this blog, I want to discuss Frank Leslie, his life, death and the Will that became a sensation in its own rights.
Frank Leslie (March 29, 1821 – January 10, 1880) was an English born American engraver, illustrator, and publisher of family periodicals.
Leslie was born on March 29, 1821, in Ipswich, England as Henry Carter, the son of Joseph Carter, the proprietor of a long-standing and prosperous glove manufacturing firm. He was educated in Ipswich and he then trained for commerce in London. As a boy on his way to and from school, he passed a silversmith’s shop whose workers he took a detailed interest in, especially those who engraved designs and letters upon various articles of silver and gold. He took note of the tools that were used and the manner of using them and acquired the necessary tools to do the work himself. At the age of 13, he did his first wood engraving of the coat of arms of his home town.
At 17, he was sent to London to learn more about the glove-making business in the extensive dry goods establishment of his uncle, but every moment that could be snatched from the “dreary drudgery of the desk’s dead wood” was surreptitiously devoted to sketching, drawing or engraving. His father, uncle and relatives so discouraged his artistic aspirations, that he was constrained to keep his work a secret from them. He contributed sketches to the Illustrated London News, signing them as Frank Leslie to insure his anonymity. These were so cordially welcomed that he eventually gave up commerce and was made superintendent of engraving on that journal. He made himself an expert and inventor in his new work. It was here that he learned the operation known as overlaying – the system of regulating light and shade effects – in pictorial printing, a system which he was the first to introduce to the United States.
He was first married in England, and had three sons with his first wife, Harry, Alfred and Scipio. He and she separated in 1860. He legally changed his name to Frank Leslie in 1857.
In 1848 he came to the United States, in 1852 working for Gleason’s Pictorial in Boston. He discovered he could accelerate the engraving process significantly by dividing a drawing into many small blocks and distributing the work among many engravers. A job on a large-format wood engraving which might have taken a month for a single wood engraver to complete, could be completed in a day by 30 engravers.
In 1853, he arrived in New York City to engrave woodcuts for P. T. Barnum’s short-lived Illustrated News. After its failure, he began publishing the first of his many illustrated journalistic ventures, Frank Leslie’s Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion and Fancy Needlework, with good woodcuts by Leslie & Hooper, a partnership which dissolved in 1854. The New York Journal soon followed, with Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (1855) (called Leslie’s Weekly), The Boy’s and Girl’s Weekly, The Budget of Fun, and many others. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, which included news as well as fiction, survived until 1922.
Illustrations made by Leslie and his artists on the battlefield during the American Civil War are well regarded for their historical value. He was commissioner to the Paris Exhibition of 1867 and received a prize there for his artistic services.
When the editor of Frank Leslie’s Lady’s Magazine had fallen ill, the then Miriam Folline Squier volunteered to fill in, and the ill editor still received the salary. The editor died, and Mrs. Squier took on the position permanently; shortly thereafter, about 1874, she and Leslie were married. It was his second marriage, and her third. Their summer home, Interlaken, was in Saratoga Springs, New York, where they entertained many notables. In 1877, they undertook a lavish train trip from New York to San Francisco in the company of many friends. Miriam Leslie wrote her book From Gotham to the Golden Gate telling the story of this trip. The expense of this trip, and a business depression left Leslie’s business badly in debt.
When Frank Leslie died in 1880, the debts amounted to $300,000, and his will was contested. Miriam Leslie took the business in hand and put it on a paying basis, even going so far as to having her name legally changed to Frank Leslie in June 1881. She was a notable feminist and author in her own right. Both his and her remains are interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
When I originally started this blog, I thought that I would do a brief bio on Frank, find his obit and then speak to the nature of the publication itself. When I began researching the archives for his obituary – oh my! The drama unfolded before me like the best of any soap opera! In a battle of Widow vs. Children From Previous Marriage, the drawn out mitigation of Frank Leslie’s will became the fodder of every newspaper in New York.
Below, I give you the clippings of the trial as it unfolded.
Clippings from Frank Leslie’s Death and Will Drama: