Louis Prang Makes an Offer
"My baggage packed, my canvases and studies rolled up, I purchased a first
class ticket for New York . . . I went to bed dreaming of a future very
different from the past persuaded that by changing countries
one changes his luck . . . "
Amid his dissatisfaction over the progress of his career and a larger desire to devote himself to the fine and decorative arts after almost a full decade in Paris, Tommaso Juglaris began to feel the lure of America. It presented itself as a very tempting offer first raised by Peter Thurwanger. Louis Prang & Company, a leading Boston publishing house specializing in chromolithography, needed an artistic director. Would Juglaris like to go to America? The terms seemed clear and firm: two hundred lire per week, working mornings only, with afternoons off for whatever art Juglaris wanted to pursue!
Today the founder and namesake of Louis Prang & Company is known as the “Father of the American Christmas Card,” credited with introducing some of the earliest color-printed Christmas cards in the United States and creating a huge demand for them. Prang also won fame for pioneering public art education and developing a line of art supplies for children. His firm, which did business on both sides of the Atlantic, rivaled Currier & Ives in the popularity of its chromolithographs. Moreover, Prang sponsored much-publicized design competitions as he constantly sought to improve the art quality of his company’s prodigious output. The effort to recruit Juglaris was very much in keeping with Prang’s artistic ambitions for his business. Initially, Juglaris turned the offer down, but lobbied by Prang’s agent a second and third time, he changed his mind. Martin Thurwanger, who three decades earlier had spent time in America producing lithographs of scientific subjects for the United States government, may have encouraged Juglaris to accept. Whatever the case, America was certainly legendary for its wide-open spaces and wide-open opportunities. As his memoir attests, Juglaris looked forward to having free rein to advance himself and his art to an extent never before possible.
Louis Prang – American Publishing Wonder
Louis Prang (1824-1909) was born in Breslau, Prussia (today Wroclaw, Poland). His father owned a calico-printing shop. As a young man, Prang learned his father’s business, acquiring knowledge about colors and dyes that was to prove useful in the world of color publishing.
Involved in the revolutionary turmoil that swept the German Prussian Kingdom in 1848, Prang felt obliged to immigrate to the United States. After spending a couple of years in New York City and Philadelphia and learning the printing business, he settled in Boston and soon partnered with another German immigrant in organizing a printing firm of their own. Following early success experimenting with color, Prang bought his partner out. He then took an extended trip to Europe to study the latest lithographic techniques, returning with a number of European artists hired abroad.
Here in the United States an expanding demand for his lithographs prompted Prang to build a new factory in Boston’s Roxbury section. The factory was equipped with forty presses and staffed by seventy workmen. In time there were also more than thirty artists employed on the third floor, drawing on zinc or stone. The factory became a Boston tourist attraction in its own right. Meanwhile, the honors bestowed upon Louis Prang & Company were impressive. Prang’s firm received medals at the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair, the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and the 1878 International Exposition in Paris. Prang proceeded to open branch offices in New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. His company also enjoyed global reach with agencies representing it in London, Berlin, and Melbourne.
The Prang Company produced its first Christmas cards in color in 1874. Six years later when Prang’s agents in France were soliciting Juglaris’s talents, Christmas cards were already a major part of Prang’s business with annual production approaching five million cards.
In politics, particularly around immigration issues, Prang was a progressive. During the era of the anti-immigration Know Nothing Party in the pre-Civil War Era, he spoke up for the rights of fellow German immigrants in the face of a constitutional amendment that would have deprived them of the eligibility to vote until two years after becoming naturalized citizens. When the Massachusetts Legislature endorsed the amendment, Prang was among the organizers of a Boston rally calling upon residents to withhold support for any political party that conditioned civil rights on a person’s “place of birth” or “color of skin.”