One of the most important branches of Mexican folklore is reaveled by the prints of a popular character illustrated by woodcuts or metal engravings which circulated abundantly during the 19th Century.
We do not refer in this brief article to books or fascicles. We will only review certain examples of prints of another kind which appeared at the beginning of our editorial life and which conserved for a long time, in form as well as in essence, the european style of typography which was the model of the epoch and which, little by little despite foreign graphic elements finally evolved its own style and character.
Religious literature of every kind made up an avalanche of editorial material, from single prints and little prayer leaflets to small booklets of jaculatory prayers, religious dialogues, thanksgivings, and hymns of praise; all of these publications which were issued during the 17th and 18th Century did not acquire their own character until the latter part of the 19th Century. During this time and infinite number of anonymous engravers succeeded each other. Few names have come down to us of these artists whose works were ornamental and frankly decorative, while their woodcuts, executed with knives, remind one peculiarly of old European playing cards.
Printed religious literature was frequently decorated not only with woodcuts but also with metal engravings, and at times with litographs. Murgía and Lara edited litographed leaflets and there is still preserved an engraving of Virgin of Loreto by Manilla dated 1877, made in the printing-shop of J. Guadalupe Sanchez of No. 4, Chavarría St.
Calendars also make an interesting study in the editorial life of two centuries in Mexico. Who does not remember “The earliest Galván Almanac” And that of Rodríguez, edited in Guadalajara? But the most important of all calendars, because os its political significance as a powerfull weapon against the corruptive fanaticism manifested by the church of that period is “El padre Cobos” which appeared in 1875, published by Don Ireneo Paz and illustrated by Jose Guadalupe Posada. The bitingly caustic drawings doubtlessly stirred the public conscience during its twenty or so years of publication.
Among other types of prints we must firstly point out those contained in four-page booklets of sixteenth size, brought out in the “office” of Don Mariano Ontiveros and dated 1821 -epoch of the Independece- some of which lauded in octavas reales the figure of Iturbide. These, as well as those edited by the Imprenta de Rebeldes and principally those published a little later by the printshop of Escalerillas St. No. 13, owned by Don Luis Abadiano, show excellent knowledge of the typographer´s craft, sobriety and good taste in composition and clear and careful printing of the types.
In 1837 Abadiano published the “Verdadero Romance de Lucinda y Belardo” and in 1843 “Rosaura la de Trujillo – a curios Romance of a young girl´s misfortune” This charming document is printed also in four pages of handmade paper and is illustrated by small and fine engraving in wood, unmistakably Spanish in character where Rosaura is shown tied by her hands to a tree; the story goes:
“…Ravished here (God! What same!) The evil cousin stripped me and, As they saw my nakedness, They tied both my hands…”
We cite another publications of Abadiano, The “Verdadero y Lastimoso Romance”, edited in 1851. All of these show the European influence which affected Mexican prints at that time.
An interesting publication is “El Grillo y el León” -a curios story for laughter and pastime, illustrated in its frontispiece with a little anonymous woodcut and dated Valencia 1836. It was the forerunner of the fables published in Mexico City by the Sánchez Printshop, among which are the “Decimas del Gato Enamorado”. Other fables of this kind, illustrated with engravings by Rangel, now demostrating a definitely Mexican character, were published shortly, thereafter, unfortunately without date, by the printshop of Encarnación St., No. 9 One os these has for title: “Este Coyote Valiente a Todos nos Mete el Diente”.
But it is not until after the end of the first half on the century that there appeared a delayed but well defined species of Mexican publications whose variety of themes show a characteristic style with unmistakable marks of a national idiosyncrasy.
From the most simple advertisements of amusements, circus, bull-fights, theaters and cock-fights programs to cardboard posters of lotteries, and the games of “oca” and “laberinto”, there issued an unending and important series of publications such as little booklets of thirty-two size on various subjects: parlor plays, Chinese shadows, conjurors and magic, comedie for children, riddles, clown´s verses, prayers, kitchen recipes, etc.
Many of these publications were printed in the Casa Editorial de Don Antonio Vanegas Arroyo.
In the pastorelas -little playlets to perform- these traditional elements are mixed: Catalonian misterios, whose pastoral songs originate from the Nativity of the Christian world of the middle ages, and the special manner of interpretation which our people give to the liturgy, the dialogues of these verses portraying the folkways, the sensibility and the peculiar tastes of the middle and lower classes.
We should also point to those pamphlets which were used to ask for or to offer logdging to pilgrims: characteristic Mexican publications of the Christmas season.
And those most delightful compendiums of love letters, making provision for all occasions, for instance: a declaration, an affirmative answer, a negative or conditional one, a tender goodbye, reconciliation or the definite break.
The naiveté of this literature belongs to that epoch when pedantry was reinstated, giving it a sense of gracious beauty which Posada interpreted so well in engravings of this kind; but the true importance of the editorial work of Vanegas Arroyo and the impulse of his engravers, Manuel Manilla and J. Guadalupe Posada, undoubtedly lies in the “Gaceta Callejera”, that esporadical fly-sheet that lived for ten years and appeared when events required it, for instance, to report catastrophes of all kinds: floods, earthquakes, gloomy predictions, like those which shook the whole of Mexico on the incident of the comet of 1899. The “Gaceta Callejera” marked the beginning of an energetic stand against the immorality of public authorities, atacking the corrupt society of its time, riveting attention with sure strokes on the awful conditions affecting the masses, fraternizing with antireelectionists, and was the first in the series of leflets distributed to the public which, under the name of corridos, ejemplos, sucedidos and calaveras, undertook as never before the task of greater social improvement, with a clear sense of criticism and always on the side on the exploited classes. All of which gives it a great significance in the pioneer movement , which was such an invaluable contribution to the spirit of the popular Revolution of 1910.
El texto fue publicado originalmente en la revista Mexican Art & Life No.7 en julio de 1939 en los Talleres Gráficos de la Nación