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Spotlight on Historical Collections

Funny Business at Baker Library

Published: 05/15/2006

From '50s fender fins and pin stripes to modern cell phones and IPOs, Charles Preston has seen it all--and shared his amusement along the way. And now he's sharing his collection of more than 200 cartoons with users of all stripes.

As the Wall Street Journal's cartoon editor, Preston has steered the paper's "Pepper ... and Salt" cartoon section for more than fifty years. He has recently donated his unique collection to Baker Library's Historical Collections. An exhibition is in the offing in the Library lobby, and all cartoons in the collection are available for researchers who may be interested in everything from business and economics to fashion and popular culture through the decades.

"I've looked at more cartoons than anyone in the history of mankind," observes Preston, who took up his post at the Journal in the spring of 1950 after working his way through Columbia University as a jokesmith for radio, cartoonists, and Broadway shows. These days, the Journal has five available cartoon slots each week for which Preston typically fields around a thousand cartoons. He will continue to update the collection at Baker. Approximately eighty artists are represented in the collection, making for a wide variety of styles and comic viewpoints.

A quick gander at the collection's Web site reveals the extraordinary sophistication and cultural value contained within the economical limits of simple illustrations and punchlines. From the time "Pepper ... and Salt" first poked gentle fun at beleaguered businessmen and cigar-smoking CEOs in the 1950s, to present-day two-income spouses and inline-skating managers, the cartoon has been a perennial and popular element of the industry bible.

"The purpose of "Pepper ... and Salt" is to provide a bit of seasoning amidst the important, serious and influential essays and commentaries," Preston told Baker. "This cartoon condiment is not merely a clown's turn. Readers working through the thickets of animadversions on Sarbanes-Oxley, OSHA regulations or Texas gerrymandering welcomed a change of pace. The cartoons in the collection quickly reveal a direct connection to subjects and themes right off page one. 'Pepper ... and Salt' [has] covered the same stories, but with humor and often irreverence."

Users may access the Web site to get a flavor of the collection, and come in to Historical Collections' de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room to browse the full cartoon collection.

Contact: Historical Collections

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