When one discusses American poster design, inevitably Edward Penfield’s name is mentioned in the conversation. Indeed, this shy, retiring New Yorker has been called the “originator of the poster in America.” Poster enthusiasts have been avidly collecting his contributions to this craft for over one hundred years. To this day, Penfield’s series of advertising ‘placards’ for Harper's New Monthly Magazine — some 75 in all — are the most recognized and collected of his works.
What many do not realize is that Penfield’s Harpers years account for less than a third of his thirty-four year career. During the decade after his self-retirement from Harper and Brothers, his free-lance work was seen by millions of people on hundreds of magazine covers and advertisements.
Not a boisterous self-promoter like some of his contemporaries — he rarely gave personal interviews — Penfield preferred to live a quiet life near his ancestral stomping grounds in New York. But at the same time he was considered “that rare person among artists, an active citizen.” He volunteered for civic duties, spoke at womens’ clubs, taught at the Art Students’s League and served as president of the Society of Illustrators.