William Henry Harrison was thrust into the limelight for his Indian campaigns while a territorial Governor in the mid-west. After the war he served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1816-19), the Ohio State Senate (1819-21) and the U.S. Senate (1825-28). Harrison was the candidate for the Whig Party in 1840 and for his election campaign Harrison was packaged as a war hero and a frontiersman. This made Harrison the butt of political jokes by his Democratic opponents, one of which is illustrated on the bandbox. His opponents said Harrison was such a yokel that “upon condition of his receiving a pension of $2,000 and a barrel of cider, General Harrison would no doubt consent to withdraw his presidential pretensions and spend his days in a log cabin on the banks of the Ohio.” He is illustrated on the bandbox greeting a war veteran in front of a cabin. There is a barrel of cider by his side and the Ohio River runs through the background. Despite the mudslinging against him Harrison was elected the 9th president of the United States in 1840. At the age of 67, he was the oldest man elected president and after serving only a month was also the first to die in office.
Bandboxes were fashionable by the 18th century but were especially popular in America from 1830-40s. Used for the storage and transport of men’s collar bands, hats, and as general carry-alls some bandbox exteriors were covered with wallpaper, but most were wrapped with papers made specifically for coverings bandboxes. These papers frequently contained landscape, hunt or mythological scenes, and during this period many papers were printed with scenes commemorating historic events. They could be rather crudely printed in just a few colors and often show a naiveté found in art.
This bandbox will be on view in the Hewitt Sisters Collect exhibition beginning December 12, 2014.
Gregory Herringshaw is the head of the Wallcoverings Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.