New York State Library
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New York State Library World War I Posters Collection
Ca. 1914-1920


Quantity: ca. 3,600-3,700 items
Access: Open to research. Some items are extremely fragile so please handle carefully.
Acquisition Gifts; Cuyler Reynolds (ca. 1917-1919), Benjamin Walworth Arnold (ca. 1925-1929), and assorted institutions
Processed By: Mary Ellis, ca. 1925; revised by Vicki Weiss, Librarian; Bryana Wachowicz and Aurora Heller, Student Assistants, University at Albany, 2015-2016

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Selected posters are available in the NYSL Digital Collections

Biographical Note:

The New York State Library has this collection of posters mainly because of the forethought of two residents of Albany, New York: Cuyler Reynolds (1866-1934), a writer with a passion for history and the first curator of what is now the Albany Institute of History and Art; and Benjamin Walworth Arnold (1864-1932), who made his money in the family's lumber business and, like Reynolds, was an inveterate collector. Arnold's interest in collecting posters probably was inspired by the fact that one of his daughters, Dorothy, had spent six months on the battlefront as a driver of a supply wagon and ambulance, returning home because of ill health.

Cuyler Reynolds was born in Albany, the son of Dexter Reynolds, an attorney, and Catherine Maley Cuyler, of Cuylerville, New York. He was educated at the Albany Academy and at a boarding school for boys in Catskill, New York. Upon graduation, he worked in the newspaper field, writing and publishing. In 1898 he became a librarian at the Albany Historical Society and, in 1899, he was named curator of the Albany Institute and Historical and Art Society. In 1906 he published Albany Chronicles: A History of the City Arranged Chronologically, from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time ..., and in 1911 he, as editor, published the four-volume Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: A Record of Achievements of the People of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys in New York State ...

Reynolds was elected to honorary membership in the New York State Historical Association and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society; he also was a member of the National Geographic Society and of the American Copyright League. In 1907 he served as director of the New York State History Exhibit for the Jamestown Exposition. Reynolds was appointed Albany city historian on January 4, 1923, by Mayor William S. Hackett, a post he held until his death.

Reynolds married Janet Gray Gould on September 24, 1891; they had one child, Kenneth Gray Reynolds.

Benjamin Walworth Arnold was born in Albany, the son of Benjamin Walworth Arnold and Frances Elizabeth Avery. After attending the Clinton Grammar School and Albany Academy, he graduated from Hamilton College in 1886. In 1890 he joined his father in the lumber and timber firm of Arnold & Co. He was a trustee of Hamilton, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, of the Albany College and Albany Hospital, and of the Albany Savings Bank; a president and trustee of the Dudley Observatory; a director of the Mechanics' and Farmers' Bank, and an elder and trustee of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Albany. He also was a member of the New York State Museum Council and honorary curator of ornithology in the New York State Museum.

In 1904 Arnold was a Presidential elector for Theodore Roosevelt. During World War I he served as chairman of the Albany City and County Defense committees, and, according to the History of the American Field Service in France, "Friends of France," 1914-1917, Told by Its Members (1920), he donated a car to the AFS. He also paid for full-page advertisements in support of the war that were printed in Albany daily newspapers

Arnold married three times (Harriet Alice Thomas, died 1892; Katherine Westerlo Van Rensselaer, died 1896; Sarah Elizabeth Van Rensselaer, died 1945) and had two daughters, Dorothy Treat Arnold (born 1892; Mrs. Ledyard Cogswell, Jr.) and Katherine Westerlo Van Rensselaer Arnold (born 1896).

Historical Note:

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany. Congress declared war on April 6. Less than seven weeks later, on May 23, Cuyler Reynolds, realizing that posters and other ephemera related to the war would be useful "in the future for those studying the war period, and how the war was conducted," wrote a letter to Dr. James I. Wyer, Jr., director of the New York State Library, asking him if the State of New York would be interested in receiving "a collection of articles relating to the Great War – after the war ends?" On May 24, Dr. Wyer wrote back that the library was "keenly interested ... and, while unable to spend very much money in bringing such a collection together, will most heartily welcome any acquisition of material of this sort that may come to it through private generosity."

By the middle of December, Reynolds had dropped off two boxes of "War Collection" material, consisting of "one thousand items." By February 1918 Reynolds had purchased a stamp that he used "to show the State Library ownership of the War Collection of posters, placards, pamphlets, etc." that he was donating to the library. Impressions of the stamp – THE GREAT WAR/NEW YORK STATE LIBRARY – are still clearly visible on posters in the collection. In a letter to Wyer, he said he "found it necessary to designate the various items in this manner because ... I expect to give [duplicates] to The Albany Institute, after selecting the better one for the State."

The correspondence between Wyer and Reynolds frequently includes Reynolds asking Wyer for some financial support in this effort and Wyer explaining, again and again, that the State Library cannot reimburse him for any of his expenses. One can feel the exasperation on Reynolds's part in his letter to Wyer of February 15, 1918: "If [in the past, New York State ... has been willing to spend] as much as $15,000 for a collection of shells … also, spiders, eggs, etc. then the Great War demands at least some small share of attention."

By January 1920, Reynolds was anxious to move the posters he had collected to the library "soon 'in case of fire'" and suggested that the larger ones could be loaded on a stretcher – "an old, discarded closet door [would] serve the purpose" – to transport them quickly. He had sorted them by size and also by subject.

Arnold's contributions include Australian posters which, he said, had been sent to him by the chairman of the Australian Defense Committee, and German posters, which he said were "produced during the first few months after the armistice when Germany desired to illustrate what might be possible under the influence of Bolshevik ideas." He also said he had secured most of the Russian posters "from small Russian stores and foreign banks in the populace quarters of New York City."

By 1922 Arnold had indicated to Wyer that he was "not greatly interested in [the poster collection] any more and [was] begin[ning] to feel that [it was] something of a white elephant on his hands" and would be willing soon to turn it over to the State Library.

Small collections of posters were received from others. The Commissariat Général à l'Information et à la Propagande, Paris, France, sent 23 posters to the "New York State Library, as well as to other important Public Libraries in America." The State Library also received 22 posters in an exchange with the Maryland War Records Commission.

Scope And Content Note:

The collection contains over 3,600 World War I propaganda posters and related ephemera dating from circa 1914 to 1920. The posters were created by government and military agencies as well as patriotic societies and private organizations that supported the war effort, including the American Red Cross, the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A., the American Library Association, Jewish War Relief and the Salvation Army.

Most of the posters (2,090 items) were created by American artists in the United States to encourage, cajole and hector Americans to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the branches of the military; conserving food, fuel and other resources; donating money by buying stamps and bonds to underwrite the cost of the war; providing aid for soldiers and humanitarian causes; and providing soldiers with jobs after the war. Other posters in the collection make the same appeals to the citizens of France (349), Canada (311), the United Kingdom (299), Germany (262), Italy (114), Australia (61) and Austria (54). The remaining posters come from other European countries as well as a few from South America, the Caribbean and Asia. (The posters from the various parts of the Great Britain were initially labeled ENG (for England) and that labeling has been retained.)

Many well-known artists of the era are represented in this collection, including James Montgomery Flagg, Charles Dana Gibson, Adolph Treidler, and Howard Chandler Christy in the United States; French artists Sem (Georges Goursat), Francisque Poulbot, Abel Faivre; Anglo-Welsh artist Frank Brangwyn, whose work was used by U.S., French and U.K. lithographers; and German artists Helmuth Stockmann, Ludwig Hohlwein, and Louis Oppenheim.

One interesting subset in the collection is 16 posters designed by French children, which include the names and ages of several of the young artists. Another is several German posters, created after the war, sounding the alarm about the spread of Bolshevism from Russia into Germany. There are even several posters noting that since women were working alongside men in the war effort, the men should give them the vote. (The men in New York State concurred with the women, giving them the franchise in November 1917.)

Many, but not all, of the posters were backed with muslin, which has, over the past 100 years, proven to be an excellent idea in that the posters with the backing are in much better condition than those which were not backed. Many of the muslin-backed posters also have grommets, seeming to indicate they were or would be hung in exhibitions. In addition to the paper posters, there are a number of trolley-car placards that were printed on cardboard.

Item Lists

In addition to its Item Number, each poster description includes title text (plus explanatory text the cataloger deemed necessary to being able to convey as fully as possible the impact the poster would have had on viewers); a textual description of the image(s) on the poster; the name of the artist, if it could be identified; the name of the printer, if identified; the name of the publishing agency; and the size (in centimeters). For posters printed in a language other than English, an attempt was made to translate at least part of the poster title.

Thumbnail images of the posters are included where available. They are not all scans of the actual poster in our collections; some came from various online sources and are included to serve as a reference and to help researchers identify posters without undue wear and tear on the originals

Collection Grouping Abbreviation with first and last numbers in collection Total Number of Posters
United States: General US GEN 01-1626 1626
United States: Recruiting US REC 01-461a, 563, 719 464
Austria AUS 01-54 54
Australia: General AUSL GEN 01 1
Australia: Recruiting AUSL REC 01-60 60
Canada: General CAN GEN 01-173 173
Canada: Recruiting CAN REC 01-137 137
England: General ENG GEN 01-79, 85a 80
England: Recruiting ENG REC 01-219 219
France FRA 01-349 349
Germany GER 01-262 262
Italy ITA 01-114 114
Argentina ARG 01 1
Bahamas BAH 01 1
Belgium BEL 01-03 3
Bohemia BOH 01 1
China CH 01-09 12
Cuba CU 01-05 5
Czechoslovakia CZE 01-06 6
Denmark DEN 01 1
Greece GR 01-02 2
Hungary HUN 01-16 16
Ireland IRE 01-05 5
Jamaica JAM 01-04 4
Netherlands NET 01 1
Newfoundland NEWF 01-05 5
New Zealand NZ 01-03 3
Philippines PHIL 01-21 21
Poland POL 01-11 11
Russia RUS 01-10 10
Switzerland SWI 01-04 4
Syria SYR 01-02 2
TOTAL 3643*

*This number is based on the number written on the last poster in each collection; for several of the larger collections, there was some intermediary numbering, which would bring the total to a slightly higher number. The New York State Library also has several extremely large posters that are in too fragile a condition to open to determine if they were inventoried when they first came to the State Library.

Last Updated: September 8, 2022