Major's Panorama of the Alphabet
Illustrations by William Momberger, his signature tucked into the lower right corner of the cover lithograph. 7 x 7 x 1.5 inches, plus two protruding wood knobs for operating the scroll. The "A" panel has a closed tear, but the remainder of the scroll appears intact and without major blemishes. Mechanics in excellent working order. The scroll turns easily and has some creasing where the rolls of paper are glued on the verso to form the long scroll.a The bottom has been replaced with a piece of paperboard that bears an auction sticker from 1979. Cover plate is rub worn around the edges with some shallow chipping to the image but no major losses. OCLC locates two copies (University of Michigan and American Antiquarian Society).
The illustrations in Major's Panorama of the Alphabet are different from those used in the McLoughlin Bros. Major's Alphabet books, which share the much cheerier illustrations used in Little Pet's ABC Panorama. The illustrations used here could not be readily located in other McLoughlin publications, though it was not an exhaustive search given the sheer amount of material they churned out. Perhaps the Major's popularity dimmed in the aftermath of the Civil War, or the markedly more sinister examples used here weren't well received. The image of the Major on the cover of the panorama looks ripe for a child's nightmare. He looks like a madman in epaulets with a mustache as fuzzy and imposing as the trim of his tricorn hat, the ringleader of manic circus monkeys.
The illustrations really fill the frame and many are quite detailed for the format. He borrows from circus characters (Music man, Juggler), and common themes (wily Fox, Lady learning to dance), but strays into some darker examples—a Hunter killing a deer, a Panther gnawing on a carcass; cultural stereotypes and themes not necessarily appropriate for a child (Beggar, Drunkard, German drunkard, Youth choking on a cigar), and the unfortunately predictable racist caricatures (A, I, N, T).
The effect is a tonal rollercoaster going through passages of the innocuous, comical, sinister, and cynical--hitting the offensive lows along the way, but most remarkably alluding directly to the Civil War and its aftermath, especially toward the end of the alphabet: "U was a UNION-Boy, and had a large flag... V was a Veteran, and had but one leg... Z was a Zouave, who had been to the war." Social and political commentary appears in many details, like the fat Quaker and his thin wife "Rebecca;" even the Beggar is wearing red white and blue.
Published by McLoughlin Bros, Milton Bradley, and other competitors in the instructive-amusement arms race of the late 19th century, panoramas are generally rare to find. Mechanical Mombergers are also highly desirable, but the Civil War references make this a standout piece.