“Mexico’s First Illustrated Newspaper”—Mathes
With an Article on Daniel Boone
418. [MEXICAN LITHOGRAPHY]. El Mosaico Mexicano, ó Colección de amenidades curiosas é instructivas. Mexico: Ignacio Cumplido, 1836, 1840, 1841, 1842. Vol. I: [1-5] 6-272, ,  274-512,  pp., 5 lithograph plates, 1 folded lithograph map, text illustrations; Vol. III: [1-3] 4-547  pp. (wants pp. 161-200 & 465-488), 26 lithograph plates (3 folded), text illustrations (1 colored); Vol. V: [1-3] 4-619  pp., 30 lithograph plates (8 folded), text illustrations; Vol. VII: [1-3] 4-608 pp., 3 wood-engraved plates (1 folded), 11 lithographs (1 folded and hand-colored), 1 folded lithograph map, text illustrations. 4 vols., 8vo (Vol. I: 20.7 x 15 cm; Vols. III, V, & VII: 22.5 x 15 cm), contemporary three-quarter brown Mexican sheep over mottled boards (Vol. I); half tan Mexican sheep over marbled boards (Vols. III, V, & VII). Spines gilt lettered. All volumes moderately rubbed and shelf worn; contents, including plates, have light to moderate foxing and many of the folded plates are chipped along the bottom. Overall, very good. Very rare.
First editions. Mathes, Mexico on Stone, pp. 17-19 & 55. Palau 183326 (Vols. I-VII, 1836-1842) and noting an 1840-1842 reprint. Porrúa 8952 (the reprint). Sabin 51035 (the reprint): “This journal is of importance to the student of Mexican History and Archeology, as it contains contributions of the most celebrated Mexican authors.” Toussaint, La Litografía en México, p. xxv. See Dicc. Porrúa (“Mosaico Mexicano”).
Porrúa remarks at length on the importance of the Mosaico: “A pesar de que en la Introducción al primer tomo los editores anunciaban que sus propósitos se reducían a dos palabras: La naturaleza y la industria, el contenido del Mosaico se fué ampliado y enriqueciéndose con la valiosa aportación de los mejores literatos e historiadores de la época y, al mismo tiempo, se convierte en una revista muy mexicana por su espíritu y por el lugar que se le dedica a todos los aspectos de la vida nacional. La ausencia del Mosaico en una colección mexicana es no tener a mano pequeño archivo, siempre útil al historiador; deleite de los amantes de obras ilustradas y de grata lectura para todos los que deseen concocer nuestro siglo XIX.”
This famous periodical is the nineteenth-century Mexican equivalent of a combination of Scientific American, Reader’s Digest, The Dial, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Popular Mechanics. Although starting out somewhat slowly and concentrating on materials found primarily in European sources, the journal rapidly expanded into other areas and eventually became an important literary, scientific, historical, and iconographic source. Initially edited by Isidro Rafael Gondra, in the second year of publication it was taken over by Ignacio Cumplido, who attracted the services of many of the best and most influential Mexican historians and authors. Under Cumplido’s leadership, not only did the written quality of the Mosaico rise but also the graphic quality increased exponentially and plates multiplied in each volume. By the time it ceased publication, however, many of the articles were again being harvested from European publications.
Mathes remarks of the Mosaico: “Mexico’s first illustrated newspaper, printed and published by Cumplido… In 1836 he established a shop at Calle de los Rebeldes 2. Working with Cumplido were several other young printers who were also destined to bring fame to the art in Mexico: Vicente García Torres, José Mariano Fernández de Lara, Mariano Galván Rivera, and the lithographer Rafael Rafael. The quality of El Mosaico Mexicano did not satisfy the high standards of Cumplido, who had hoped that the inclusion of lithographs which were ‘more appropriate for representing countryside, rivers, mountains, forests and all forms of landscapes, while not being applicable to portraits’ would permit twice the number of plates than would engraving; he determined that the ‘lithographs will be brought from foreign sources until we can count on a good execution of this art form by Mexicans.’”
Among unusual topics covered are medieval siege engines (with illustrations), the evils of women’s corsets (with x-ray like illustrations showing the resulting malformations), ballooning, Mexican antiquities, steamships, printing, historical figures such as Cromwell and Richlieu, and various plants and flowers, one of which, the “Flor de Mocteuzoma,” is illustrated with a hand-colored plate (at Vol. VII, p. 12). Probably most astonishing for the modern U.S. reader, however, is the first installment of a brief biography, with woodcut, of Daniel Boone (Vol. III, pp. 458-462), covering his activities and Indian fights from about 1769-1778, surely one of the most obscure Boone articles in existence. To round out the treatment of early U.S. heroes, there is also an article, with a plate, on Washington’s tomb (Vol. V, 220-221). That is followed immediately, as filler, by a brief story relating how a Jewish physician cured Francis I by having him drink ass’s milk, an odd juxtaposition to the emotional Washington article describing Lafayette in tears after his visit to his friend’s final resting place.
One topic surely hit home with Cumplido, as he admits in the Introduction to Vol. V (1841), which contains a series of illustrated articles on prisons. After being confined in La Acordada for publishing an anti-government article, he was ironically appointed thereafter superintendent of prisons. The result was a small work published in the Mosaico concerning prisons, of which he feels those in the U.S. are models. The parts appear in Vol. V, pp. 121-134, 145-153, and 169-180, and are accompanied by three plates, one of which shows the Philadelphia prison, which Cumplido admires. A table with the article lists and discusses “penetenciarias más notables que ecsisten en los Estados-Unidos del Norte.” These articles are interesting evidence of the penetration of Yankee ideas into Mexico during an era of great tension between the two countries because of the Republic of Texas.
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Copyright Dorothy Sloan 2009