Vanity Fair, 1861

Before Conde Nast’s 1913 acquisition of Vanity Fair, the magazine appeared in three incarnations—as a humorous Manhattan-based weekly (1859–1863), as a British publication known for satirical prose and for a series of artists’ brilliant caricatures (1868–1914), and as an American theater magazine (1890).

The first incarnation was published during a period of the United States’ greatest crisis. And this issue from May, 1861, was printed a little over a month after the Battle of Fort Sumter (April 12–14, 1861). Among the comic content, there is a serious reflection on the meaning of the attack by Confederates and surrender by the Union troops of Fort Sumter, near Charleston, that started the American Civil War.

This Vanity Fair did not survive the Civil War, but it’s sobering to see how the illustrious title handled itself during this period of unthinkable strife.

 

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