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A Map for the” Scofflaw” – An imaginary Conception of an Ideal Estate c1931

  • Author: HELD, John R
  • Publisher: Country Life Magazine
  • Date: 1931
  • Dimensions: Sheet: 26 x 36 cms / Map: 20 x 28.5 cms

Description:

A Map for the “Scofflaw” – John Held’s comic Prohibition era map of an “ideal estate” free of all liquor restrictions & controls

About this piece:

A Map for the “Scofflaw” An Imaginary Conception of an Ideal Estate

Single page, printed in black & white, extracted from an early 1930’s issue of Country Life magazine, the pages numbered 47/48. Monochrome photographs of American country houses with captions to verso. Short marginal tear in right blank margin at sheet edge, expertly closed & reinforced on verso. Wide margins. Overall fine condition.

Charming comic map, one of a series of three similar maps designed for publication in Country Life Magazine in the early 1930s by the renowned American illustrator & cartoonist, John R Held or John Held Jr [1889-1958].

Held was a Mormon & native of Salt Lake City. His artistic talent manifested itself from a young age and he sold his first drawing to a local newspaper at the age of just nine. He then sold his first cartoon to Life magazine at the age of 15 and from 1905, still in his teens, became a regular contributor to the Salt Lake Tribune.  He was seconded to US Naval Intelligence as an artist and cartographer for an archaeological expedition to Central America in 1918 I and by the 1920’s had become an established cover artist for some of America’s leading illustrated magazines, including Life and Vanity Fair. In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s he also developed a distinctive woodcut & linocut style, and many of his designs and maps appeared in the Gay Nineties column of the New Yorker, founded by one of his college class mates, Harold Wallace Ross [1892-1951], and poking gentle fun at the older pre-war generation. By the same token, his drawings and cartoons also managed to capture the energy and excitement of the younger college generation, to the extent that they have become almost synonymous with the Jazz Age, not least in their portrayals of the 1920’s flapper.  Married four times, he died in New York in 1958 and is interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery.

An evident dog-lover, Held published numerous sketches of dogs during his career and even an illustrated book, Dog Stories [Vanguard Press, 1930], a delightful collection of stories, originally serialised in Cosmopolitan, told from the anthropomorphized perspective of Mac Dunald, a pampered Scottish terrier,  of a style & genre reminiscent of  Walter Emanuel & Cecil Aldin.

A companion map to this one, published about the same time as Held’s Dog Stories, unsurprisingly features a Scottish terrier as the anarchic representative of the canine kingdom lording it over his own “ideal country estate”. Needless to say mud, raw steaks, slippers, cats, old ladies, bicycles, digging, barking, biting and buried bones feature prominently!

In this comic map, published in early 1931, Held’s eccentric imagination pokes tongue-in-cheek fun at the widespread circumvention of  government law enforcement and controls over the illegal distribution, production and consumption of liquor and alcohol during the short-lived era of American Prohibition. Initiated in January 1920 the United States would remain dry for nearly fourteen years until the Volstead Act and 18th Amendment  was finally repealed in December 1933. It was a theme that features in several of Held’s cartoons of this period, not least in his famous 1928 map entitled Americana.

Interestingly the word “Scofflaw” first came into being during the Prohibition era. It entered the American vocabulary following a 1923 nationwide competition sponsored by the prominent Bostonian financier Delcevare King [1874-1964], an ardent supporter of Prohibition.  The competition came with an winning prize of $200 in gold and sought suggestions for a new word to best describe the “lawless drinker” who openly flouted the recently-introduced anti-liquor laws. I do seek a word which will stab awake the conscience of the drinker…and stab awake the public conscience to the fact that such lawless drinking is, in the words of President Harding, “a menace to the republic itself”, King is reported to have announced at the time. The word “Scofflaw” was selected from over 25000 entries and quickly entered common US parlance. Despite the end of Prohibition, the word hung on in the American lexicon & eventually came to refer to someone who flouted the law in more general ways.

Held’s imaginative 1931 conception of the “Scofflaw” estate here offers rye fields, fruit orchards and vineyards whose harvest can quickly be transformed into cider, wine & hard liquor. The estate’s presses, stills, testing and bottling works in turn furnish a vast secret cellar, whose large padlocked entrance can be seen mid-centre.  In the top left of the map, Held depicts the a large lake or sea, not unlike parts of the American-Canadian frontier, where illicit rum runners could easily land their bootleg cargoes and where a lone government “Dry Agent”, in imminent danger of drowning, languishes in its dangerous serpent-filled waters!  Numerous notices around the perimeter of the estate warn against the unwanted attentions & intrusions of Prohibition enforcers & “Dry Agents” whose activities might threaten to disrupt the illicit activities this haven of alcoholic merrymaking & consumption!

Refs: cf Katherine Harmon, You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination [2004] ill p.169; The Works of John Held Jr [1931], ill p.12; David Rumsey Collection