Plates from The Iron Gate — and a Key Historical Note, Too (Coda to the Series)

So back in June, Dean sends me a note: “Did you see the printer’s plate for the Edwina page from Iron Gate is up for sale?” I had not, but I went to the popular auction/sales website and sure enough, for a price noticeably under fifty smackeroos, there it was. Moreover, it was available along with separate listings for the Baskerville and Hilda Terry Iron Gate printer’s plates!

As you’ve seen in our prior installments devoted to The Iron Gate, which marks the 25th anniversary of Manhattan’s plush “21 Club,” original art by many top-ranked cartoonists and illustrators pepper the volume.

And since someday, when the race is fully run, I plan to donate my LOAC research and related materials to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum (if they’re still interested in eventually acquiring it), it seemed like a good idea to grab and preserve these three even-rarer artifacts of this rare book. So yes, I snapped ’em up and they now reside here, at Stately Canwell Manor. Here’s Edwina Dumm’s page, featuring the stars of “Cap” Stubbs & Tippie:

As you can see, the printed image is reversed on the plate. A proof, now rather tattered, was pasted onto the back of this plate, showing the result once the graphics were transferred to paper:

What the image alone doesn’t show is how heavy these suckers are! Printing technology has evolved to employ lightweight plastic or aluminum plates, but The Iron Gate pre-dates those advancements, so each of these plates is mighty thick and measures its weight in pounds. “Don’t drop one on your toes!” was one of my first cautionary thoughts.

Here’s a close-up from the Edwina plate that I flipped to make the text legible:

The full-color Baskerville image looks like this in its ready-for-printing form:

And like this, flipped so you can read the text:

Finally, here’s the plate for Hilda Terry’s contribution:

And here’s a flip of the text at the bottom of the plate:

Of course, The Iron Gate contains more than artwork. Articles centering around “21” were provided by many familiar names: Ed Sullivan, John Steinbeck, Bob Considine, Bugs Baer, and several others. Only one cartoonist contributed an essay in addition to a piece of art — Ham Fisher provided a half-page piece that should be of interest to comic strip fans everywhere. With typical Fisherian grace, it reads:

“Whenever i need a new character for my comic strip, Joe Palooka, I go to ’21’. Actually, ’21’ was the original inspiration for the feature.

“I arrived in New York twenty years ago full of ambition. I was six years of age and had already achieved a modicum of success in my hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I had read the various New York columns and hoped one day to gaze upon the famous and glamorous. There was only one place to see them. So I went to Twenty-One, which was then located in a cellar under the present wine cellar.

“Apparently I was mistaken for a Harvard man. I wore bangs and a pair of plaid knickers. I was immediately taken, and afterwards had a wonderful time, after which I wired home for money. Father sent me a half-dollar, which I still owed for the toothpick.

“Among the many celebrities I met were Mark Twain, Mark Hanna, and Trade-Mark Smith. Louis Sobol, Frank Farrell, and Earl Wilson had not arrived in New York yet, but had hopes, even as I once had.

“The wonderful character of Mac inspired me to do the American ideal, Joe Palooka. His manly grace, his handsome face (copyright Kern and Hammerstein) appealed to me so that I knew this was to be the prototype of my heroic creation.

“Jimmy at the door made a perfect type for Joe’s manager, and Charlie, wearing a fright-wig, which he still wears on formal occasions, gave me the idea for Humphrey Pennyworth. A Mr. Husing, who owned the gents’ room concession, was the inspiration for many of the characters who later found their way into the strip.

“If any of these bums expect any royalties, they’re crazy.”

While Ham clearly has tongue lodged in cheek in several places throughout his article, it seems entirely probable that the cartoonist (who delighted in rubbing elbows with the “beautiful people” even before that term had been coined to describe them) did indeed base a portion of his Joe Palooka cast on those he encountered after passing through the iron gate at “21.”

Many thanks for those who’s spent the last few months with us, looking at the art in The Iron Gate! And for those who came in late and whose appetites have been whet, you can find our previous installments by clicking these links for Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six.

I’ll be back later this week with something completely different and, yes, interactive!

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