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Cassowary Bird

Henkel, Solomon
Place Made:
New Market Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
ink –paper
HOA: 10 1/2
WOA: 8 1/2
Accession Number:
This large woodblock print was struck at the Henkel Press in New Market, Virginia. The print depicts a man dressed in an exotic costume feeding a Cassowary Bird.

Cassowaries are large flightless birds native to Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and northeastern Australia. It is the third tallest and second heaviest bird known. Females can weigh more than 120 pounds and stand more than six-feet tall. They have black bodies and colorful heads similar to that of a turkey.

According to Marina Belozerskaya’s book “The Medici Giraffe: And Other Tales of Exotic Animals and Power”, the first Cassowary arrived in Europe at the end of the 16th century. Brought to Amsterdam by Dutch traders, eventually the large bird found its way into the menagerie of Rudolph II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612). It survived only a few years, after which it was stuffed and added to the Emperor’s wunderkammer. Cassowaries were brought to America as well where they were exhibited as profitable curiosities. On July 31, 1807, for example, Relfs Philadelphia Gazette announced “To the Curious: A LIVE CASSOWARY to be seen…” It is possible that this print was struck to advertise or commemorate such an event in or around New Market.

The Henkel Press was founded in 1806 by Ambrose Henkel (1786-1870) and his brother Solomon Henkel (1777-1847). Though the press is best known for publishing German-language religious literature, this print reminds us that the press also produced more mundane materials meant to advertise to and delight the people of the Shenandoah Valley.

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA has a large collection of Henkel Press material (acc 5550). Among this material are woodblocks, books, prints, and manuscript material. MESDA also has a New Market fancy-painted chair owned by press co-founder Solomon Henkel (acc. 5838)