A collection of 50,000 editorial cartoons has turned 20 years old this week and it shows off the best and brightest New Zealand cartoonists who had their finger on the pulse of the nation.

Cartoonists in New Zealand have been capturing public sentiment for more than a century and it is one medium of communication politicians are fans of if the walls of their parliamentary offices are anything to go by.

Politicians have no qualms about donning their walls with images depicting their rudest and crudest moments.

Ian Grant is the man behind the collection of cartoons - he is not a cartoonist, but is a writer with an eye for cartoon detail.


He worked at the National Business Review when it was set up in the 1970s, working alongside cartoonist Bob Brockie.

Colleague Gordon McLauchlan was tasked with recommending someone to write a cartoon history of New Zealand and suggested Grant to the publisher.

Grant said he saw a gaping hole when he wanted to do research for the book on New Zealand's cartoon history.

He realised cartoons in New Zealand had not been gathered into one collection when he went looking in research libraries.

He said the Cartoon Archive resulted directly from his frustration in the late 1970s researching his 1980 bestselling book The Unauthorised Version: A Cartoon History of New Zealand.

"I realised that if anyone was going to establish a cartoon archive in New Zealand, it was going to be a researcher and writer rather than a cartoonist, who is always preoccupied with producing that day's cartoon," said Grant.

The New Zealand Cartoon Archive, housed in the National Library, was created in partnership with the Alexander Turnbull library and has quickly become Australasia's largest collection of editorial cartoons and caricatures.

Donations to the archive came by the box load from under the beds and from inside the dusty cupboards of New Zealanders.

Robert Muldoon stumped up his collection to the archive, as did the cartoonist Peter Bromhead who donated all of his original work.

"The work of contemporary cartoonists needed to be preserved as increasingly valuable historical sources of information about prevailing attitudes and view of each generation." said Grant.

What has resulted is the collection of work by 60 New Zealand and expatriate New Zealand cartoonists who produced editorial cartoons and caricatures.

The archive was launched in 1992 by Prime Minister Jim Bolger and would celebrate its 20th birthday tomorrow night in Oldins Square on Taranaki Street wharf in Wellington and would finish with a launch of a monogram by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

The archive has toured its collection nationwide and to Canberra holding exhibitions.

The collection of cartoons dates back to the first New Zealand version of the Punch magazine in the 1860s.

There were up to eight different versions of Punch in New Zealand between 1865 and 1880 and from the late 1880s as printing technology improved, cartoons began appearing regularly in weekly magazines and were used widely at the start of the 20th century.

Grant said cartoons are unique because they offered a spontaneous view of what public opinion is like and give a down-to-earth and real gauge of where people's attitudes were at the time.

"They cut to the crux of an issue. Cartoons can be quite controversial. There's a difference between a newspaper report and a cartoon - there's a long tradition that cartoonists have been able to express views that are not necessarily the view of the newspaper and they can say things in a strong way," he said.

New Zealand Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson said the collation of the cartoons was vital, and viewed chronologically allowed people to view history through cynical eyes.

"Usually cartoons are good for 24 hours but the archive plays a vital insight into history."

Emmerson said his favourites were World War II cartoonist Sir David Low who made it onto Hitler's top 10 most hated list.

He also admired Alan Moir, cartoonist for the Sydney Morning Herald.

The collection has grown dramatically since it celebrated its 10th anniversary with 8700 cartoons.