Saturday, February 28, 2009

Racism in American Magazines

I read today that the mayor of Los Alamedos, California resigned after sending a tasteless and inappropriate image in an e-mail to his friends and supporters. Of course, this immediately raised the issue in my "magazine history" mind of racism in America as reflected in its periodicals.

The present-day world is quick to respond to offensive images vis a vis the recent New York Post monkey satire and the one of the Danish cartoonist a few years ago that literally sparked a jihad in the muslim world.

This was not always the case. It was quite acceptable in times past, the not so far past, to regularly publish images that today would do more then raise eyebrows. As the offspring of a holocaust survivor, it is most logical for me to address the issue of racism from the standpoint of anti-semitism.

In the mid and early 19th century, Catholics and the pope were frequent targets. Prior to reconstruction, there was not too much in the way of anti african-american images or writing. After 1880 or so, the lid came off on all sorts of imagery that was, by today's standards, 10 out of 10 offensive. People like Richard K. Fox, publisher of tabloids such as Police Gazette, made no bones about his hatred for African Americans and Jews. E.C.Z. Judson (aka Ned Buntline) was an influential publisher, best remembered for "inventing" Buffalo Bill. He was also a supporter of the visciously racist "Know Nothing" party of the 1850's. Many of the humor magazines like Truth and Judge regularly featured racial parody. Probably the worst of all was Judges Library, an offshoot of Judge whose monthly issues were often wholly devoted to one or another minority group, full of the most offensive jokes and cartoons imaginable. No group was spared, Jews, Italians, Irish and African Americans were regularly portrayed in a most offensive light, obviously appealing to the basest elements of American society and fueling prejudice and bigotry for many future generations.

Things calmed down a bit after 1920 or so, but subtle and, at times, not so subtle, writing continued. Major publishers, like H.L. Mencken, did little to hide their anti-semitic views and, of course, Henry Ford's Dearborn Independent was little more than a rag to promote Ford's rabidly anti-semitic views about "The Protocols of Zion" and the jewish plan of economic dominance of international business, (while Hitler was still sitting in prison in the early 1920's writing "Mein Kampf", Ford was actively and widely spewing anti-semitic diatribe for all to see. If present-day Jews read more history, they'd be more likely to drive German cars before Fords). Ford himself became the brunt of parody in this cartoon by George Grosz published in the October 1932 issue of the satirical monthly, Americana.

Read in particular the section on The Dearborn Independent, for further information on how Ford's views on Judiasm inspired and abetted Hitler.

Fortunately, "the dark side of the force" did not ultimately prevail and we have evolved, though not yet perfectly, to a better understanding of the benefits of a heterogenous society.
Publications like John Greenleaf Whittier's National Era first published Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" that did a lot to stoke the fires of the Civil War and emancipation. The body of more tolerant journalism ultimately far exceeded the bad.

The first magazine published by a Jew in America, The Jew, was actually published in defense of the proselytism of another, Israel's Advocate. Even in 1913, this practice continued.

The caption on the illustration of this Civil War era issue of Forney's War Press is not so subtly anti-semitic.

The amazing anomaly of a Jewish heroic character, "The Hebrew Hero" appeared in Street and Smith's New York Weekly at a time when the vast majority of sentiment was of the opposite viewpoint.

We've come a long way. This has been a pretty good year in getting us to a higher understanding. God Bless America, and all that she stands for.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The American Journal of Science: America's Longest Running Periodical

I am often asked what the oldest continuously published American magazine is. The answer is the venerable American Journal of Science, originally published by Benjamin Silliman. If you go to Yale today, you can go into Silliman Hall. The current issue is Volume 309 Number 2 and AJS is still the pre-eminent Earth Science journal published in America.

The New England Journal of Medicine actually goes back to 1812, but it went through a number of name changes so AJS still gets the prize for the longest continually published title.

The North American Review, America's first purely literary magazine, started in 1815 and is still being published in Iowa, but it suspended publication in 1940 for two decades.

Of today's literary magazines, the oldest are Harper's Monthly (1850) and Atlantic (1857).
All of these images are Volume 1 Number 1 issues from my collection. If they can be found, these magazines would sell for about $500 each, with the exception of New England Journal of Medicine, which would bring considerably more. I have only seen one copy of the original first issue in wrappers in thirty years and it is probably worth a few thousand dollars, considering it's importance as one of the most widely quoted present-day medical journals.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Harold Ross and the New Yorker

If I could go back in time for interesting conversation and intellectual stimulation, my first choice would be Paris at the time when Sylvia Beach's bookstore Shakespeare & Company was the cultural hub of that great city.
Should international travel not be allowed, a reasonable alternative would be New York City during the period of the Algonquin Roundtable. Of course, the tie in with magazines is round table member Harold Ross, his wife, New York Times reporter Jane Grant, Alexander Woolcott and the rest of the group that formed The New Yorker, a magazine that reflected the wit and style of all the Algonquin members.
The principles met while working on the W W I (this brings to mind an interesting side thought- will the present economic downturn eventually be known as D 2 with the one during FDR's time recoined D 1?) newspaper Stars and Stripes and, after the war, cut their magazine editorial teeth on, The Home Sector, which lasted only a year until it was absorbed by American Legion Weekly. Ross then worked briefly for a humor magazine, Judge, before founding his magnum opus, The New Yorker, in February 1925.

The New Yorker broke new ground with its brand of sophisticated humor, commentary and literature and was edited by Ross until his death in 1951. The list of important literary contributions to this magazine is long, but John Hersey's "Hiroshima", published in its entirety in the issue of August 31, 1946 and J.D. Salinger's "Franny" (1955) and "Zooey" (1957) come to mind as the most collectible, though they remain remarkably reasonable in price.

the "Hiroshima" issue

Aside from the first issue, which is scarce and brings about $500, my favorite New Yorker items include the rare prospectus and a very rare parody issue published on November 6, 1926.

The issue's cover features Ross himself, drawn by Rea Irvin as "Penaninsky", parodying the editor as the dandy Eustace Tilley, who was featured on the inaugural issue, looking at "spider" Alexander Woolcott through his monacle while smoking the ever-present cigarette (no coincidence Ross died of lung cancer). I've only had one opportunity to acquire this and bought it on ebay in May 2000 for $611. The issue is full of jokes and cartoons specifically done for Ross' amusement by the New Yorker staff.

Unlike tonight's Oscars, which was long on glitz and short on substance, The New Yorker continues to be a distinctive source of magazine artistry, forty-eight times a year!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Magazine Origin of "Oscar"

When I obtained this exceedingly rare magazine last March, I was so excited about it that immediately posted a blog entry. Now, at the time when the world is focusing on Sunday's Oscar ceremonies, an enhanced reprise seems appropriate.
The cover of this magazine and the image for the statuette was designed by the academy's first art director, Cedric Gibbons. As you can see, there were minor changes in 1929 but the concept is the same and this is likely the first publication of what appears to be the logo of the newly-formed academy and the predecessor of the famous award.
There is nothing in this beautifully designed and expensively accomplished periodical about awards, but the goals of the academy are outlined in the opening essay by its first president, Douglas Fairbanks. Since this statement of purpose is likely not found elsewhere, I thought I'd use the occaision of this year's academy awards to share it with you.

Enjoy the show!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tobacco Magazines

Since tobacco and smoking has been a large part of the American economy for many centuries, of course there have been many magazines about them.
Lets start with my favorite, this 1877 magazine, published in New York, The Smoker. It's really a triple whammy- 1) no other copy of this magazine nor any record whatsoever exists about it. 2) the illustrator, Palmer Cox later became well-known for his "brownies" and even the top Cox scholars were unaware of this title. They also pointed out that the impish figures in the masthead are the earliest recognizable predecessors of the brownies 3) the editor- Oscar Hammerstein (the father of the composer). I obtained this in a volume of magazines from Richard West of Periodyssey (far and away the best dealer in American magazines and the starting point for any collector. Virtually every magazine in the volume was unknown so we referred to it as "the volume from mars". The Smoker was the highlight.

While anti-alcohol magazines were farily common, anti-smoking magazines are scarce.

Eventually the tobacco companies got into the act and produced their own magazines. Some branded and some a bit more subtle.

I'd walk a mile for a great tobacco magazine!

I almost forgot this one: another one of those totally unknown beauties I was talking about a few posts ago. This is a marvelously illustrated 1905 magazine concerned with the tobacco trust. Trust-busting was a big deal around the turn of the last century and magazines were used on both sides of the argument.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Pot-pourri of Magazine Valentines. Emily Dickinson.

My personal valentine, Katherine, suggested I post something appropriate on this most romantic day of the year. Hence, after wracking my brain for something that would relate magazines to valentine's day I've come up with a pot-pourri of delights.

First, a graphic beauty. A cover done for the old humor Life Magazine in February 1905 by my favorite illustrator, Maxfield Parrish. "St. Valentine". No further explanation needed.

And for those inclined to the literary- I offer another gem from my collection- the incredibly rare and valuable first published appearance of the reclusive Emily Dickinson, in the Amherst College publication The Indicator, for February 1850, a letter (to George H. Gould?) entitled "Valentine Eve". As all of her work published during her lifetime, it is unsigned. Her next appearance would be two years hence, a poem, "A Valentine" in a newspaper, Springfield Republican of February 20, 1852. (Joel Myerson, Emily Dickinson, A Descriptive Bibiography, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984, items D1 and D2 respectively).

for additional information on the relationship between E.D., Amherst and The Indicator see:

And to close out this Valentine's Day trio, since Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote perhaps the most romantic poem of all time "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways, I include for your reading pleasure a complete reproduction of the still previously unknown Browning essay "Madame Luce and Her School" in the equally unknown 1857 literary magazine, published somewhere in the southern Mississippi valley, The Titan.

My $100 prize remains unclaimed so I am increased the reward to $250. Click the link below to read the full blog post about my quest.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln in Magazines: A 200th Birthday

I surely could not let the occasion of the 200th anniversay of Abraham Lincoln's birth go by without at least a brief discussion of his appearances in magazines.

The beardless portrait from Harper's Weekly, taken from a photograph by Matthew Brady, appeared the day after his election as the sixteenth president. At the time, Harper's enjoyed a very large circulation and the youthful and handsome image did much to promote Lincoln's popularity. This image probably introduced his visage to more Americans than any other.
Throughout the civil war Lincoln appeared on magazines, and, as politicians are today, was often the brunt of satire and caricature.
Here's my favorite, currently on loan to the Newseum in Washington, though there are dozens of great examples scattered about in such obscure and rare titles as Phunny Phellow, Comic Monthly and Punchinello, to name only a few.

The best images from the time of his assassination appeared in the second most widely circulated news periodical Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Civil War issues of Leslie's are harder to find and thus a bit more expensive than Harper's Weekly.

Lincoln remained a frequent subject of periodicals after his death. Here is a rare "campaign paper" issued in conjunction with the 1872 election.

Happy 200th Mr. President.

Monday, February 9, 2009

My latest acquisition: An exceedingly rare 1829 magazine: Frances Harriet Whipple Green McDougall

I just received this today from one of my favorite book dealers, Willis Monie of Cooperstown, New York. Over the years Will has come up with quite a few unique and interesting items for myself and other collectors. This one was found on his on-line catalog for $125( is by far the most comprehensive bookfinding site).

This literary venture of the Rhode Island abolitionist Frances Harriet Whipple, later married twice, adding Green McDougall, is cited in the only comprehensive biographical work about her
yet does not appear in the Union List of Serials, anywhere on the internet or in Jayne K. Kribbs' wonderful and extremely comprehensive reference American Literary Periodicals 1741-1850. A testimony to how rare and ephemeral early American magazines are. I don't know how long it lasted but, for all intents and purposes you are looking at the only one of its kind in existence (by the way, no one has called me on my $100 offer and solved the mystery of The Titan and the most comprehensibe holding of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Southern Methodist University, has never heard of her appearance there).
I must confess, though, that I haven't read the book and have no idea how the author knew of the existence of this magazine. Here's FHWGM's Wikipedia page.
I have a dozen or so "unknown" magazines. Here's a few of the early ones. You will not find them anywhere else. Now digitially rescued from perpetual anonymity for your viewing pleasure.

Damn, how I love old and rare magazines! Today, for the first time, over 100 people visited my blog, I guess some other people love them too.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fiorello H. LaGuardia; Mayor and Magazine Publisher. Ethnic American Magazines

The product of jewish mother and a catholic father, the colorful "little flower" (literally, the english translation of the italian word. fiorello), Fiorello H. Laguardia championed the rights of the downtrodden as a congressman off and on (mostly on) between 1916 and 1932 and then as the incorruptable (what a novel concept!) fusion mayor of New York City from 1934 thru 1945. He was one of the greatest personalities of the melting pot of ethnic groups that continuosly infuses new life and diversity into American culture and is perhaps best remembered by the masses for reading the funny papers over the radio during a newspaper strike in the midst of the (last) depression.

A virtually unknown part of LaGuardia's life was a foray into magazine publishing- an obscure italian language monthly L'Americolo, begun in 1925. This magazine is not held in any major american library (by virtue of not being listed in the Union List of Serials) and there is only one small reference to it on the internet (with no dates of publication listed) in a later biography of great ethnic americans. I happened upon it at a paper show and was amazed and pleased to find La Guardia's name inside.

Ethnic magazines have been printed in america since 1764 when Geistliches Magazien was published by and for the Pennsylvania german immigrant population, printed with the first German type cast in America (an interesting etymological aside here: the misnomer of the "Pennsylvania dutch" which are actually the Pennsylvania deutsch").

Virtually every major American ethic group has had their own publications. Some, like Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and the great humor magazine Puck were published concurrently in separate editions in two languages. The german-language Puck, published by Joseph Keppler, actually preceded the english language edition.

Ho-hum- just another great example of the importance of studying american magazines.

See you soon, ciao (btw, a legal scrabble word), auf wieder sehen!