Offensively Racist Dr. Seuss Drawing Heads to Auction—Why?

Dr. Seuss, Cross-Section of The World's Most Prosperous Department Store, 1929. Courtesy Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs & Memorabilia, Los Angeles.
Dr. Seuss, Cross-Section of The World's Most Prosperous Department Store, 1929. Courtesy Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs & Memorabilia, Los Angeles.

A 1929 Dr. Seuss cartoon with images of black men for sale and featuring a racial slur is on offer from Los Angeles auction house Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs & Memorabilia. The auction house makes no secret of the drawing’s nature, billing it as “very early work … with shockingly racist content.” Seuss had published his first drawing two years earlier, in 1927, in the Saturday Evening Post.

The drawing on offer at Sanders, made when Theodor Seuss Geisel was 25 years old, is from the satirical Judge magazine. It is titled, Cross-Section of the World’s Most Prosperous Department Store, and shows customers shopping for items that will make their lives more, not less, difficult. One panel shows the insect department, where you can “pick out a fly for your ointment.” In the engineering department, you can find “first-class monkey wrenches to throw in your machinery.”

Dr. Seuss, Cross-Section of The World's Most Prosperous Department Store, 1929. Courtesy Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs & Memorabilia, Los Angeles.

Dr. Seuss, Cross-Section of The World’s Most Prosperous Department Store, 1929. Courtesy Nate D. Sanders Fine Autographs & Memorabilia, Los Angeles.

The bottom panel, the largest, shows two dozen black men, caricatured with jet-black skin and large red lips, being offered for sale. The text in the drawing refers to an expression for an important fact that’s kept secret and may cause harm, and may refer to an escaped slave in hiding. It originated in the US in the mid-19th century, while the Underground Railroad was active.

Tagged at $20,000, the drawing measures about 20 inches high and is available for bidding until 7 p.m. Thursday.

In unoffensive Seuss-related news: an unpublished Dr. Seuss book, What Pet Should I Get?, was unearthed at the author’s California home recently; it will be published this summer (see New, Priceless Dr. Seuss Children’s Book Found in Late Author’s Home). Also this summer, a museum devoted to his work will open in June (see The World’s First Dr. Seuss Museum Set to Open in Author’s Hometown of Springfield).

 


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