Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Final Piece of the Puzzle. Norman Rockwell

I started collecting magazines thirty seven years ago, just after I entered medical school in Chicago. In those days it was fun to go from city to city to the plethora of dusty old bookstores and mine for gold. On one of my day trips to nearby Milwaukee, I found a Saturday Evening Post with Norman Rockwell's first cover and bought it for 17 dollars.
Rockwell was still living then so I shipped it off to Stockbridge, Massachusetts with a number of other rare magazines and, sure enough, it came back signed with a wonderful inscription "This was my first Post cover of years ago, sincerely, Norman Rockwell.

It became one of my prize possessions and piqued my interest in Rockwell, who, for magazine collectors of the day was an icon. As it happened, my compulsive collecting of Rockwell illustrated magazines and books gave me some very interesting experiences.

In his later years, Rockwell's memory was quite poor and, unlike the compulsive Maxfield Parrish, he had not been in the habit of documenting what he had done in the past. As a commercial illustrator, he really cared little for the work he had done after it was completed. The final painting became the possession of whomever commissioned it and he most often gave away the preliminary drawings and canvasses.

As interest in Rockwell increased, the museum wanted to learn where the paintings they had came from and really had no siurce to find out. This was componded by a 1943 fire that destroyed most of Rockwells studio and records. Enter a crazy doctor from Chicago. They began calling me and, before too long, since I had put together the best collection, we had somewhat of a working relationship. I, essentially, became Rockwell's memory. I had the privilege of showing Rockwell's work to his wife and three sons shortly after he died.
In the late 1970's, we struck a deal. I gave them the collection I accumulated and they gave me an original Rockwell drawing in return, to my knowledge, the only piece of original art ever to leave the museum archive. Unfortunately, in the early 80's I donated it back to them for a $50,000 tax deduction. It would be worth in excess of a million dollars today- tsk tsk. On the basis of acquiring my collection, the museum was then able to put together a catalog raisonne of Rockwells work, "A Definitive Catalog". The author, still executive director, Laurie Norton Moffatt, was kind enough to acknowledge my participation in the introduction.
Getting back to the first Post cover. Since rarity rules, I actually traded it away to a friend for the first issue of LOOK Magazine in the late eighties. I eventually regretted the trade but, as luck would have it, my friend sold it to someone else, who put in on Ebay five years ago and I was able to re-acquire it for $900. A bargain by any measure.

Part of the collection I traded away to the museum was a complete collection of twenty or so early juvenile fiction books illustrated by Rockwell. Only yesterday, I acquired the final book to duplicate what I gave away thirty years ago. The last piece of the puzzle was "Keeping His Course" a very volume by Ralph Henry Barbour with four NR illustrations. It is probably rare since the title page incorrectly attributes the illustrations to another artist, Walt Louderback. Perhaps the publisher realized their mistake and pulled the edition. Anyhow, its taken thirty years to find another copy.

I still have a drawer full of the rarest Rockwell covers I've found over the years, most of which are not in the catalog. I still keep the museum up to date on my new finds. Thank goodness, Rockwell never kept records, he's the gift that keeps on giving- and my nostalgic Post cover is back where it belongs!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

John Peter Zenger and Freedom of the Press. The New York Weekly Journal

President Obama is directly responsible for this post, by virtue of the comments he made yesterday iat the National Press Club about the importance of free speech and journalism.
I am often asked what the earliest item in my collection is. The New York Weekly Journal, printed by John Peter Zenger was started in 1733, eight years prior to what is generally considered the first magazine.
I obtained the first three issues (the first being only the latter portion) from a run sold at Sotheby's in the 1990's. While the issues surrounding Zenger's famous trial for seditious libel are the most coveted by newspaper historians, from a purely historical standpoint, I like mine alot better. The opening essay by "Cato" a pseudonym of either John Trenchard or Willam Gordon begins "The freedom of the press is a subject of the greatest importance", and goes on to explain why. This is the beginning of American thought on the subject we hold so dear. Fifty-five years later, the very first amendment to the Constitution on the United States made it official.

Further writing of this most important publication, codified by the trial, established the principal that the press was able to print defamatory material, as long as it was found to be true.

Sorry for the brevity of this post but I'm still quite busy finishing my new book (aside, of course, from also running a practice of neurology)- now available for pre-sale on

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The First Report of American Independence

Over the years I have been exceedingly fortunate to be able to put together a complete run, with all the engravings and maps, of Thomas Paine's Pennsylvania Magazine, published between January 1775 and July 1776. While much has been made of the importance of of the July 1776 issue, that contains the only contemporary magazine printing of the Declaration of Independence, the other issues are full of incredibly important articles and illustration.

In particular, the June 1776 issue is rarely discussed but, in my mind, far more valuable and important. The magazine was intended to be published on the first Wednesday of the succeeding month, therefore making the "Declaration" somewhat old news in early August, since it already had been published in numerous newspapers throughout the newly independent colonies (that now sell for over $100,000, the first, The Pennsylvania Evening Post, more than twice that) . The first printing of the actual declaration, the famous and exceedingly valuable Dunlap and Claypoole broadside (conservatively $2,000,000), was printed on Thursday the 4th and started being circulated on Friday the 5th.
Tucked into the very rear of the June issue is a succinct report from Tuesday, July 2, likely printed and circulated on Wednesday the third:

most probably the first printed report of American independence. Now that's a pretty big deal!

Here's what the entire front and back pages look like:

and there's more: a very rare an early American map of North & South Carolina and Georgia (the first of the area printed in America?) opposite page 268 (Jolly no. 300, incorrectly listed in in the May issue):

More to follow about other Pennsylvania issues shortly. Right now I'm off to meet the co-authoe of our Franklin Roosevelt book (my current passion) for one on New Jersey's great steaks.(Steve's Sizzling Steaks in Carlstadt) I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!