Wednesday, August 6, 2008


As the Saturday Evening Post's most important cover artist of his day, J.C.Leyendecker illustrated all the holiday numbers, as well as many in between. His Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving covers were annual events for the Post's millions of readers. Leyendecker gave the Americans what is perhaps the most enduring New Year's symbol, that of the New Year's Baby. For almost forty years, the Post featured a Leyendecker Baby on it's New Year's covers. The New Year's Baby chronicled what was foremost on the collective American mind that year.
Charlie Parker wrote in
'The great Golden Age illustrator J.C.Leyendecker originated the idea of using a baby to symbolize the birth of the new year. Starting with a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1906 for which he painted a winged cherub that was close to the idea, he began using an actual baby in the December, 1907 issue to welcome in 1908; and continued to represent the coming year that way on New Year’s covers of the Post into the 1940’s.

Leyendecker was the Post’s major artist in the first half of the 20th Century, and was routinely given the assignments for the important major holiday issues. It was only years later that Norman Rockwell, who considered Leyendecker his artistic ideal, began to take on those duties.

Curtis Publishing, publishers of The Saturday Evening Post, provide a nice archive of their covers, often arranged by artist or subject, including a two page gallery of Leyendecker New Year's Baby covers. It’s a treat to look through them, not only as great illustration, but as a fascinating chronicle of 20th Century history. Leyendecker would play with the idea of the New Year’s Baby to conceptualize the political, social and economic concerns of the day, be it stock market worries, balanced budgets or the looming shadow of war.'

The Baby New Year is a personafication of the start of a new year, commonly seen in various New Year's customs, especially holiday cards and illustrations for store window displays. The stereotypical representation of Baby New Year is as a white male baby wearing nothing more than a diaper, a top hat and a sash across his torso that shows the year he is representing. Sometimes he is holding an hourglass or is otherwise associated with one. Often, he is not a complete newborn but is slightly older, because he is frequently shown standing on his own, barely walking, or having a small amount of head hair.
The myth associated with him is that he is a baby at the beginning of his year, but Baby New Year until he is an elderly bearded man at the end of his year. At this point, he hands over his duties to the next Baby New Year. In addition to being a mythical figure, the Baby New Year is sometimes a real person. The first baby born in any village or city in a certain year may be honored by being labeled as the official Baby New Year for that year. The official Baby New Year can be male or female, even though the mythical Baby New Year is nearly always male. Attempts to name an official Baby New Year for an entire country have sometimes been made, but generally there are multiple contenders and no single Baby New Year can be confirmed.

SEP Leyendecker Baby covers, and page 2

Image Copyright held by
Curtis Publishing Company

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