Is this the earliest Presidential portrait in a newspaper?

February 4, 2021 by  
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We recently discovered the November 23, 1844 issue of the iconic “Illustrated London News” from England, featuring on the front page portraits of James K. Polk and Henry Clay, both candidates for the Presidency.

Knowing this was a very early of a portrait of a President in a newspaper, I did a little digging to see if it might be, in fact, the earliest.

I could not confirm an earlier one. Research did note that the issue of April 19, 1845 of the same newspaper has a print showing the inaugural ceremonies and the procession to the Capitol, but that was 5 months later.

Given that most of the illustrated newspapers would not begin until the mid-19th century (Gleason’s Pictorial began in 1851), none of the more well-known American illustrated periodicals existed in 1844. Even Harper’s New Monthly, which had a wealth of small prints in each issue, did not begin until 1850.

Any collectors out there aware of an earlier print of a U.S. President in a periodical? It would be great to document the earliest, whether it’s this Nov. 23, 1844 issue or another.

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5 Responses to “Is this the earliest Presidential portrait in a newspaper?”

  1. Paul Sarna on February 4th, 2021 11:53 pm

    This also beat out a New York Herald front page illustration for Andrew Jackson’s funeral in June of 1845, which had a portrait of Jackson at the top of the front page.

  2. GuyHeilenman on February 11th, 2021 10:43 am

    Hello Paul – Thanks for your input. It is always good to hear from you. Guy

  3. Frank Caserta on February 13th, 2021 4:51 pm

    We have a couple of 1838 Alexander’s Weekly Messengers with front-page 5″ x 5″ portraits of John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay, but of course they weren’t presidents (although, as mentioned above, Clay was a presidential candidate). However, I have another 1838 issue of the same title with at least 16 portraits of distinguished public men on the cover and will have to look at that to see if any are (or would become) presidents. If that doesn’t pan out, would the following count? We have a September 17, 1832 United States Telegraph Extra with a political cartoon of Andrew Jackson, with (not making this up) Martin Van Buren laying in his lap. Given that these are all artist’s engravings, are you drawing a distinction between “portraits” and political cartoons, or including any visual depiction of a President?

  4. Frank Peter Caserta on February 13th, 2021 5:05 pm

    Quick additional note: I didn’t remember this earlier when I was posting my first note, but subsequent reading reminded me that not only was Calhoun a candidate for President also (in 1824), he did serve as Vice President in both Adams’ and Jackson’s administrations.

  5. Frank Caserta on February 14th, 2021 5:35 pm

    So I finally got a chance today to look at the January 3, 1838 Alexander’s Messenger I was thinking about earlier. As I opened the binder, I saw the twenty “Portraits of Distinguished Public Men” under that headline on the front page that I had recalled yesterday. Scanning them, I was greatly disappointed that none were of Presidents. As I was starting the close the binder, I happened to spy the portrait in the middle of the top row that I’d somehow missed the first time around–George Washington…Bingo!!
    A happy find, but given the number of newspapers printed by this era, those of us who’ve collected for a while know there’s almost certainly an earlier Presidential portrait in some issue somewhere. What will it turn out to be???

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