Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Fight for Equality

Like virtually every other aspect of American culture, the ongoing struggle of the African-American can be intimately witnessed by studying american periodicals. Over the years, I have had a particularly acute focus in this area and have acquired some amazingly rare (a term I do not use lightly) and historically significant magazines which accurately reflect the evolution of the African Americans place in American society.

The story begins with the publication of "Ode to George Washington" written by an African Anerican former slave, Phillis Wheatley, in the April 1776 issue of Thomas Paine's Pennsylvania Magazine. This is the first published appearance of African American literature in a magazine.

On a more sobering note, a graphic and disturbing image of a slave ship packed with its cargo is seen below. It accompanied a 1787 article published in Matthew Carey's liberal American Museum, one of the two most important and widely circulated magazines of the 1780's, entitled "On the Origins of the Slave Trade". Despite the intended anti-slavery message and shock value, slavery would not be abolished for another 76 years.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Origin of Life

The name Life, now most recognized as that of a highly important magazine of photojournalism started in 1936, was first used for an illustrated monthly humor periodical in 1883. From the 1880's into the first half of the 20th century, Life, along with its more politicallly charged rivals Puck, Judge and Harper's Weekly (begun in 1857), were the pre-eminent suppliers of satiric illustration to the sophisticated American public. The name itself was conceived and copyrighted by publisher J.A Mitchell for use in the premier issue of January 4, 1883. By pure serendipity, the unique original document filed by Mitchell at the Library of Congress was found on eBay and acquired for my collection for a remarkably small percentage of its historical value. Life is one of the most important and recognizable titles in the entire history of the american magazine. To be able to obtain the actual document which first introduced its name was among the greatest thrills I've had in over 30 years of intensive collecting.

The humor Life regularly employed the finest illustrators; Charles Dana Gibson, Maxfield Parrish, Norman Rockwell, John Held and Howard Chandler Christy to mention only a few of the best, and thrived through the years of the First World War and the roaring twenties. The depression of the 1930's took a toll on its subscribers and by 1936 it was ready to close its doors. The last issue was in November and the name was then sold to Henry Luce for use on the first issue of his magazine to be issued on November 23rd. Two unnamed dummy issues were circulated earlier in the year to firm up the format and attract advertisers. The cover of the first issue of the photo magazine Life featured Margaret Bourke-White's now classic photo to the Fort Peck Dam. Until 1972, Life was a major jewel in Luce's publishing empire and set the standard for news photojournalism. It was discontinued at the peak of its circulation primarily due to the expense of mailing it.

I have collected a wide variety of highlights, including the aforementioned copyright, the first and most important issues of both the photo and humor magazines, all the dummy issues, the original prospectus, and the original publisher's mock-up of the first issue.

From a collecting standpoint, the first issue of the 1936 version was extremely popular, widely circulated and considered a collector's item from the outset. Thus, it is common today and regularly obtainable for less than fifty dollars. The rarest issues are the handful which were substituted shortly after issue when a more important breaking story could be urgently substituted. The rarest of all is the issue anticipated for November 29, 1963 with Roger Staubach on the cover, pulled off the presses due to the assassination of President Kennedy. It was never circulated and all but a few dozen were destroyed. These souvenir copies, retained by the publishing staff, now sell for around 1000 dollars on ebay. A few years ago, I was contacted by Staubach's agent, looking for a few copies for his children. Unfortunately I was unable to supply him with any.

A source of great confusion today are the "miniature" version of the 1883 issue and a smaller version of the first issue of the 1936 magazine, often described as a salesman's sample. In fact, both were given away as premiums by Time/Life in the 1950's and are of minimal value.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

O! say can you see....

One of the greatest examples of magazine americana is found in the Analectic Magazine (from the Greek analekta, selected things) of November 1814, which first published (anonymously) in a widely circulated periodical, Francis Scott Key's "Defence of Fort McHenry", set to the music of a British drinking song "Anacreon in Heaven". Prior to this, the poem had appeared only in a few local newspapers. Within a few years, "The Star Spangled Banner" as it later came to be called, gained recognition as the national song. official designated so by congress in 1931.

Analectic Magazine is the most important magazine of the second decade of the nineteenth century, initially edited by Washington Irving and containing great source material such as articles and engravings of American naval history, and the first publication a lithograph in America, by Bass Otis, in 1818.

Illustrated above is an unbound copy "in wrappers" of the original issue from the Lomazow collection. It was customary prior to 1920, for libraries to bind magazines into volumes , at which time which the original covers, or "wrappers", were usually discarded, making individual issues in wrappers a rarity today. Wrappers often contain unique advertising and publishing information, making them a scarce and valuable historical tool. For instance, the back wrapper of a later issue of Analectic contains an announcement of the impending first publication of the report of the expedition of Lewis and Clark!!

A bound volume of Analectic containing "Defence of Fort McHenry" presently is valued at about $500. An original unbound issue in wrappers would sell for ten times that amount.

Now YOU CAN SEE why collecting magazines is so much fun.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Norma Jean, Betty and Clark

The most iconic female figure of the twentieth century is Marilyn Monroe. Her career began quite modestly at age 18 with her first appearance in print when she was asked to model in a publication of her employer, Douglas Aircraft, in their journal Douglas Airviews in the January 1946 issue. She appears inside the magazine as well and in later issues in some related advertising later in the year.
Her next magazine appearances, the first to feature her exclusively on the cover, was for the April 13, 1946 issue of the british magazine, Leader (very rare), followed shortly by the April 26 issue of american The Family Circle. Both of these photos were by Andre de Dienes, with whom she had more than a professional relationship. A very rare french magazine, Votre Amie, republished a colorized version of the Leader image on September 3, 1946.

The Douglas Airviews appears on EBay once a year or so and sells for over $1000. The british and french magazines are extremely rare and valuable. I bought the only copies that I've seen for sale in the last twenty years. The Family Circle is fairly common and goes for about $350.

Other early appearances of future celebrities on magazines are fun to collect. When Howard Hawkes was looking for a fresh face for his latest movie in 1943, his wife suggested an unknown model from the cover of Harper's Bazaar. Hawkes liked what he saw and hence the "discovery" of the alluring Lauren Bacall! Interestingly, when Ms Bacall appeared on the David Letterman Show a few years back, they needed a copy of the magazine to show and contacted me, so this image is the one that American public saw that night.

Here's another beaut that I came across one day at a paper show, Clark Gable, years prior to his movie career, on an obscure San Franciso magazine, The Wasp. The Wasp was in it's agonal years at ths time after being a major and important illustrated humor monthly since the 1870's.
Many stories to tell, many pictures to show. This is one of my favorites.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

King of the Wild Frontier!!

Just back from Papermania in Hartford, Connecticut, one of the few remaining east coast paper/ephemera shows still worth attending (the others being the Ephemera Society Annual Meeting and the semi-annual paper show at the fairgrounds at Allentown, Pennsylvania).

One major purchase, The Davy Crockett Almanac for 1842. Paid $1100, a good buy considering that a great group of 21 Crockett Almanacs sold last October for $50,000 plus a 7 1/2 percent buyer's premium (pre-auction estimate $50,000-75,000). See link for complete auction listing and excellent scholarship, additional images concerning Crockett almanacs.
Crockett Almanacs are extremely important Americana. Davy Crockett was really the first great American folk hero and these almanacs, published between 1835 and 1857 were principally responsible for creating the folklore which perpetuates to this day. Right Mr. Disney? Crockett himself started the ball rolling. Books appeared about his exploits as early as 1832 and the first almanac was published in 1835, a year prior to his legendary death at the Alamo.

In fact, the infatuation with the American west and its personalities pretty much begins here. Add in a little James Fenimore Cooper, a good helping of Buffalo Bill and a dash of Ned Buntline and you've pretty much understood why we presently can't get enough of western movies and TV shows.
The Dime Novels and Story Papers, beginning with Seth Jones in 1860 (right image), clearly modeled after Crockett introduced in Beadle's Dime Novel #6 in 1860 (also in the Lomazow personal collection) introduced Jones and sold a whopping 400,000 copies! Testimony to the amazingly ephemeral nature of the Dime Novels is that only a handful of the original 400,000 still exist!
The perpetuation and evolution of the folklore is clear. After the Dime Novel era (1860-mid 1920's), came the pulp magazines (late 1890's to mid 1950's) then the comic books (beginning in earnest in the mid-1930's) until television and movies, when the youth of America stopped reading and began watching.

I do love origins and the reasons why we think what we think today. Our periodicals are a direct reflection of our popular culture. That's why collecting and studying them is so much fun. This is a magnificent example.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Is it a magazine or a newspaper?

The exact classification of early american periodicals is often confusing. A periodical is, by definition, issued at intervals. Therefore, a daily newspaper is not a periodical. In 18th century America, there were no daily publications, making each and every magazine and newpaper a periodical.

What is a magazine? Literally it is a storehouse of information- taken from the same root and definition as the magazine of a ship, used as a storehouse of munitions. The word "magazine" was first used in the context of a periodical in 1731, in London, England, by Edward Cave (aka Sylvanus Urban) for Gentleman's Magazine. Clearly there were prior publications of similar content, periodicity and scope which did not have the name "magazine". So semantically, Gentleman's Magazine was the first magazine to actually be called a magazine, though not the one which first utilized the format.

What is a newspaper? Indeed, news periodicals date back to Roman times. News periodicals contain factual accounts of events. The first english language newspaper is considered to be The Oxford Gazette, first published in 1665. In America, the first newspaper was Publick Occurrences, printed in 1690 and banned after one issue (therefore technically never being a periodical). The Boston News-letter, begun in 1704 was the first successful American Newspaper.

The first American magazine is presently considered to be Willam Bradford's American Magazine, first published in January 1741 (beating Benjamin Franklin's General Magazine to the press by a few days) closely following the format of its british forerunner, Gentlemen's Magazine.

Now comes the conundrum. Early magazines and newspapers all published periodically. Many magazines contained news and many newspapers contained essays, literature as well general non-news content.

For instance, examining John Peter Zenger's New York Weekly Journal, classified as a newspaper and published in 1733 in comparison to William Livingston's Independent Reflector, considered to be a magazine, published in 1752, one would be hard pressed to discern a difference in content. There are many other examples of comparable but differently classsified periodicals published throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Size and paper type can't be used as strict criteria, since some publications presently recognized as magazines were printed on newsprint and both newspapers and magazines come in all different sizes.

In the 21st century, most readers pretty much know which is which (of course, The New York Times includes its own magazine!!), but for a considerable amount of time in the past, the waters were considerably muddier.

American 18th Century Magazines

This is the very rare title page of the first american periodical to run more than one year, American Magazine and Historical Chronicle. It features a magnificent and extremely rare engraving of the city of Boston by Turner. Note who was authorized to sell this magazine in Philadelphia!
In twenty-five years, i've never seen another copy of this engraving for sale.
A fair 2008 auction estimate would be 8000-12,000 dollars.

This image is on the title page of my book American Periodicals, A Collector's Guide and Reference Manual, published in 1996 and available for purchase for $49.95.

This is the only contemporary magazine printing of The Declaration of Independence, published in the July 1776 issue of Thomas Paine's Pennsylvania Magazine. Pennsylvania Magazine began in January 1775 and ceased publication with this issue. No magazine was then published in America until Boston Magazine in 1783.
Contemporary newspaper printings of the Declaration of Independence now sell for up to $100.000. This issue is valued at $25,000. It is presently on loan to the Newseum, opening in the spring of 2008 in Washington, D.C, where it will be displayed, along with dozens of other magazines from the Lomazow collection, in the news history gallery.