Sunday, July 12, 2009

19th Century American Humor Magazines

As virtually all of American popular culture, the origins and development of truly American humor and cartooning is chronicled in its magazines.
These magazines are particularly desirable and collectible, fueled mostly by present-day comic book purveyors, who have, for the last few years, been looking backward beyond the 20th century for the origins of comic illustration. It appears that the comic book market is somewhat played out and prices peaked a few years ago. 19th century comic magazines are much rarer. Many of even the major publications do not have complete runs in existance.

By far, the greatest repository of magazines prior to 1876 is the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. The greatest individual collection is held by Richard West of Periodyssey. Even these two collections only hold a small fraction of the comic universe.

David Sloane's book on American Humor Periodicals, published by Greenwood Press, is by far the best and most comprehensive reference. It is out of print and very hard to find. Copies are available on the web for about $200 and well worth it.

I guess the best way to tackle this subject is chronologically, so I'll use items from my collection to provide a long series of posts to tell the story.

Perhaps the first, and clearly the most famous of truly American humorists was Washington Irving, and his earliest and best effort was the highly important and valuable Salmagundi published for a year or so in 1807-1808. Complete runs in original wrappers sell for many thousands of dollars.
Success breeds imitation and there were many imitators to follow, none of which acheived anywhere near the lasting impact of Salmagundi.
Plenty more to follow. Have a great Sunday.

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