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Advertising, Black Americana, Statue of Liberty Insurance Ad, Currier & Ives, Antique Print, New York, 1864

Thomas Worth (1834-1917) (after)
United States Mutual Accident Association, New York (published for)
Bar Thuldy’s Statue: Liberty Frightenin de World
Currier & Ives, New York, New York; 1884
Lithograph, colored, varnished and mounted on board as placard
Signed in matrix lower right
19.25 x 14.75 inches
Price on Request

Part 1:  Introduction

A rare promotional advertising colored lithograph, mounted on board and varnished as a placard likely as issued. It was published in 1884 by Currier & Ives for the United States Mutual Accident Association, then located at 320 and 322 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. The insurance advertisement features an illustration substituting a racist “mammy” caricature for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. The image, based on a drawing by Thomas Worth, was also published in 1884 by Currier & Ives as a standard print without advertising copy. Later, in 1886, Currier & Ives published a variant of the offered 1884 promotional print, also advertising United States Mutual. The central image relates to others published by Currer & Ives in the 1880s from Worth’s overtly racist The Darktown Comics series. Nonetheless, this image stands out from the others in the series in its insolent depiction of an American landmark of major political, social, and symbolic significance in connection with a racist rural African American caricature. 

All examples of this print are rare. Indeed, we were unable to locate any other extant examples or references to the 1884 insurance advertisement in other public collections. According to Currier & Ives expert Frederic Conningham, the original 1884 Currier & Ives print was also adapted as an advertisement for other companies — Mansfield Medicine Co. and R.C. Brown & Co. Today this image, whether issued as the original or an advertising variant, nonetheless serves as a historical record of prejudicial racial attitudes, anti-immigrant sentiments, and the dubious advertising mores and standards of the post-Civil War segregation era.

Product description continues below.


Part 2: History of the Statue of Liberty, 1865-1886

To fully contextualize the messages embedded in Worth’s image, the historical context of the Statue of Liberty from inception to dedication must be considered.

It is well known that the Statue of Liberty is a huge copper statue on Liberty Island (then known as Bedloe’s Island) in New York Harbor off the tip of Manhattan. It was a gift of the people of France dedicated after its completion and installation on October 28, 1886. French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi designed the figure of Lady Liberty to symbolize the freedoms asserted by the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The antecedents of the project can be traced to a proposal in 1865 by French anti-slavery activist Édouard René Lefèbvre de Laboulaye who discussed creation of the statue with Bartholdi, inspired by the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of African American slaves as guaranteed by 13th through 15th Amendments to the Constitution. Bartholdi completed his first model in 1870. Laboulaye announced the project, seeking public support in 1875, and the statue was named Liberty Enlightening the World. In the ensuing years parts of the statue were variously created as fundraising continued. The disassembled statue arrived by French steamer to New York on June 17, 1885, then installed, and finally commemorated in a ceremony in October 1886.

Attitudes toward immigration may also have been expressed in Worth’s satirical depiction of the statue. In 1883, Emma Lazarus, a Jewish immigrant to the United States, wrote the poem The New Colossus relating the Statue of Liberty to the welcoming of immigrants who passed it aboard ships on the way to Ellis Island to be processed for entry to the U.S. She wrote the poem as part of the fundraising drive to complete the base of the statue. The poem contains the now-famous phrase welcoming immigrants that in 1903 would be etched in a plaque at the base of the Statue: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” The poem had little public impact when it was published, but anti-immigrant sentiment can be traced to well before that date. For example, in 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and by separate law banned immigration of criminals and mentally incompetent people. 

Yet another issue of political relevance familiar to Americans in 1884 was that of federal import taxes in the form of tariffs, a major controversy facing President Chester A. Arthur when he won the 1880 election. Arthur’s opposition to high tariffs cost him the Republican nomination when he ran for a second term, which instead went to Grover Cleveland in 1884. The following synopsis explains:

In addition to civil service, President Arthur also carried the reformist spirit into the realm of tariffs, or taxes on international imports to the United States. Tariffs had long been a controversial topic in the United States, especially as the nineteenth century came to a close. Legislators appeared to be bending to the will of big businessmen who desired higher tariffs in order to force Americans to buy their domestically produced goods rather than higher-priced imports. Lower tariffs, on the other hand, would reduce prices and lower the average American’s cost of living, and were therefore favored by many working-class families and farmers, to the extent that any of them fully understood such economic forces beyond the prices they paid at stores. Out of growing concern for the latter group, Arthur created the U.S. Tariff Commission in 1882 to investigate the propriety of increasingly high tariffs. Despite his concern, along with the commission’s recommendation for a 25 percent rollback in most tariffs, the most Arthur could accomplish was the “Mongrel Tariff” of 1883, which lowered tariff rates by barely 5 percent. … Such bold attempts at reform further convinced Republican Party leaders, as the 1884 election approached, that Arthur was not their best option to continue in the White House (OER Commons).

Part 3: Background and Description of the Prints 

In 1884, Currier & Ives copyrighted the print “Brer Thuldy’s Statue. Liberty Frightenin de World. To be stuck up on Bedbugs Island — Jersey Flats, opposit de United States. Only Authorized Edition.” The variant of this print as an insurance advertisement for the United States Mutual Accident Association (offered here) was created, copyrighted and published by Currier & Ives with a slightly different title: “Bar Thuldy’s Statue. Liberty Frightenin De World. To be stuck up on Bedlum’s Island – Jersey Flats opposite da United States.” The advertisement is also larger than the original version.

In both the original 1884 print and the offered 1884 advertisement, an African American woman is shown in place of the Statue of Liberty on the statue’s pedestal as a stereotyped caricature. Her pose parodies Lady Liberty’s — she holds aloft a primitive torch that appears to be a burning tree branch with her right hand in place of the classical torch held by the actual Statue, the latter being a symbol of enlightenment. The actual Statue of Liberty holds a tablet with the date of the Declaration of Independence in Roman numerals (July 4, 1776). The African American woman also holds a tablet under her other arm; in the 1884 Currier print the title of the tablet is changed to “New York Port Charges” — apparently in reference to the controversy over tariffs on the import of foreign goods to the United States at the time. In the offered insurance company print the title of the tablet is changed again to relate to insurance perils: “Frightful Accidents for 1883, Vol. VI.” In both versions of the print, the underside brim of the woman’s modest bonnet has a pattern like the Statue of Liberty’s crown, she wears an apron with the stars and stripes of the United States flag to represent liberty and wears simple shoes. Her facial features are exaggerated in the manner of racist stereotypes of the era in a wide-eyed expression of fear. A rooster stands proudly at her feet on the pedestal perhaps intended to suggest she is an unsophisticated rural woman. The title of the original 1884 print changes the name of Bedloe’s Island to Bedbug’s Island, while the 1884 advertising print has it as Bedlum’s Island.

The insurance advertising print adds extensive promotional information about the insurance company to the statue’s pedestal. Names of typical events covered by insurance are also incorporated in the facets of the star-shaped enclosure surrounding the base (e.g., Falls, Broken Bones, Lightning). The phrase “De World Needs Frightenin on De Subject ob Accident Insurance” is added beneath the original title and subtitle. Additional promotional text for the insurance company is added in red letters in the bottom margin beneath this elongated title. The slogan “Save One Half the Usual Cost of Accident Insurance” curves across the sky. Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge are shown as background in the original print; in the 1884 advertising version they are darker and more detailed. To promote the product of accident insurance, an exploding ship and flames erupting from a collision between a steamboat and a sailboat on the East River have been added.

Another variant of the offered 1884 advertisement for United States Mutual was issued in 1886. An example of this 1886 print is in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a smaller version (around 11.5 x 6.75 inches) and is much simpler in terms of text and illustration than the 1884 publication. It shows the African woman much the same with advertising information on the pedestal but isolated on a patch of grass without the background river view. There are other variations of the 1884 advertisement with simplified subtitles below and no slogan in the sky. For the 1886 issue, the title of the “Frightful Accidents” tablet held by the woman changes Volume VI, 1883 to Volume VII, 1886.

Part 4: Analysis

The 1884 and 1886 prints discussed here relate to Currier & Ives’ The Darktown Comics  — also by Thomas Worth — though were not specifically a part of them by title. Scholar Alexandra Bonfante-Warren has noted the “insensitivity and downright malice” of the Darktown series as a turnabout from Currier & Ives’ pre-Civil War prints that earlier had dignified depictions of Blacks and promoted pro-Union, antislavery views:

The gentlemanly, reserved Currier counted among his close acquaintances abolitionist leaders … yet Currier & Ives published Thomas Worth’s series The Darktown Comics, still today some of the most shockingly racist cartoons to enter the public consciousness. So popular was the series that when Currier & Ives was finally liquidated in 1907, and all the drawings were removed from all the lithographic stones, the only exception was The Darktown Comics, which was sold along with the publishing rights. (Worth’s White Comics also sold, but not nearly as well.)

In the original 1884 print the components of the depiction of the African American woman in her dress and expression, her diction as indicated by the printed titles and subtitles, and reference in the titles to Bedloe’s Island as Bedbugs Island, are self-evidently racist. Moreover, the print, in mocking the Lady Liberty Statue, arguably mocked the anti-slavery elements behind her symbolism and purpose. 

Another possibility is that the 1884 print also relates to the issue of immigration. This might have been the purpose of the pun in the title: “Bar Thuldy” is a bastardization of the name of Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed it. Although the Statue of Liberty originally celebrated liberty over slavery, the 1883 New Colossus poem of Emma Lazarus shows it also resonated as a symbol of the United States as a haven for immigrants in search of freedom from oppression. At that time there were anti-immigrant sentiments and federal laws limiting certain immigrants passed in 1883. Was the mocking of the Statue intended also to show opposition to open immigration?

Nonetheless insofar as the tablet held by the Black woman in the 1884 print was labeled “New York Port Charges” that suggests an alternate interpretation, as a satirical commentary regarding the controversy over high import tariffs. In 1884, nearly 70% of U.S. imports came through the Port of New York. It is possible that print employed a mocking racist image in place of the Statue — a gateway to the port of New York City for commerce — to comment on tariffs and suggest that the United States. was “frightenin” the rest of the world with high “New York Port Charges.” Under this reading of the image, the Black woman with her rooster perhaps represents the average American farmer, whom President Arthur considered better off with lower tariffs and thus lower prices as part of their cost of living. Was the racist portrayal thus a vehicle to make a different point largely or entirely?

The adoption by United States Mutual Accident Association of the original 1884 Currier “Liberty Frightenin” image for its 1884 or 1886 advertisements apparently reflect a casual acceptance of racist tropes in American popular culture at the time. Nonetheless, is quite plausible that the young insurance company founded in 1877 simply adopted the print for its popularity and relevance to the location of its business in New York City, without searching thought or consideration beyond that. For example, the extensive text advertising their products does not comment on the image. In addition, the design changes reinforce the advertising message — changing the wording on the tablet from “New York Port Charges” to “Frightful Accidents for 1883, Vol. VI” and adding boats on fire in the East River to emphasize their product: accident insurance. Further, the 1884 print changed the parody name Bedbug Island to Bedlum Island, perhaps softening the offensive reference while also making a humorous reference to the “bedlam” associated with unfortunate accidents. Nonetheless, that the insurance company considered it desirable to represent its insurance product with this image speaks to the pervasiveness of racial prejudice in that era. If the inclusion of the accident in the East River seems a crass addition it is somewhat typical for the period in insurance advertisements.

The original print and its variants can undoubtedly be further explored. Our analysis is more for demonstrating the importance and complexity of the print in the issues it raises, rather than tackling them as historians, to whom we defer. We wonder how deliberate and well thought out the design was by Thomas Worth, by the publisher Currier & Ives, and by the insurance company beyond a mere attempt to appeal to the public to sell prints and advertising. Was the real deliberate purpose of the original print to oppose high tariffs, accomplishing this by employing a racist trope? And further to the point of Bonfante-Warren, did any or all those involved in creating and reproducing this racist image act with “downright malice.”

Part 5: Additional Information and References

Thomas Worth was a New York artist who drew cartoons, sporting prints, horse, and train subjects. He sold his first drawing to Currier & Ives around the age of 20 and was one of their major artists. He is perhaps most well known for The Darktown Comics, a series of caricatures and satires issued as caricature and humor by Currier & Ives, but now considered patently racist.

Full publication information: “Copyright 1884, by Currier & Ives, N.Y. / Pub. by Currier & Ives, 115 Nassau St. New York.”

Condition: Generally, very good with the usual overall light toning, handling, wear. Issued as a placard as mounted on board and covered with a thick protective layer probably a varnish or shellac, which has now uniformly yellowed in tone. A selvedge layer has been applied to the side. 


“Bar Thuldy’s Statue: Liberty Frightenin de World.” Metropolitan Museum of Art. (21 February 2023).

Bonfante-Warren, Alexandra. Currier & Ives: Portraits of a Nation. New York: Metro Books, 1998. pp. 40, 49, 61, 71, 94 and 96.

Brockell, Gillian. “The Statue of Liberty was created to celebrate freed slaves, not immigrants, its new museum recounts.” Washington Post. 2019 May 23. (28 February 2023).

Conningham, Frederic A. Currier and Ives Prints: An Illustrated Check List.  New York: Crown, 1949. 3487.

Jones, Reece. “How the Statue of Liberty became a symbol for a national myth.” University of Hawai’i News. (28 February 2023).

“U.S. History: Unit 21, Lesson 3. The Key Political Issues: Patronage, Tariffs, and Gold.” OER Commons. 2007-2023.

“Worth, Thomas…Brer Thuldy’s Statue; Liberty Frightenin de World.” Justin Croft Antiquarian Books. 2023. (21 February 2023).

Additional information


19th Century