Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Casket, Graham's Magazine and Samuel Atkinson

One of the more interesting magazine histories surrounds Philadelphia publisher Samuel C. Atkinson. Atkinson was co-founder of The Saturday Evening Post in 1821. Even today the mythology that the Post evolved from Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette continues to be perpetrated. The only relationship is that it was first published in the same building that the defunct Gazette had used in the past. This ersatz folklore was invented by publisher and master marketer Cyrus Curtis after he acquired the moribund Post in 1898 and, with George Horace Lorimer as his editor, built it into a highly successful weekly magazine, one of the major cogs in the golden age of magazine illustration.

Here is copy of Norman Rockwell's first Post cover that he personally signed for me and a clearer scan showing the false heritage on the masthead.
In 1826, Atkinson founded a monthly magazine, The Casket: Flowers of Literature, Sentiment and Wit, that acheived the highest circulation of any magazine of the time. Intially, the Casket was little more than the monthly amalgam of articles from the Post. The first volume is quite scarce. I obtained mine from a dusty shelf of De Wolfe and Wood's great bookshop in Alfred Maine one summer in the early 1990's. It is the only copy I've ever seen. A highlight is an unrecorded printing, perhaps the first in a widely published periodical, of "Twas The Night Before Christmas" allegedly by C.C. Moore but here published anonymously as all versions prior to the death of Henry Livingston (for an interesting account of this literary controversy see

Volumes of the Casket are dated but do not contain a volume number, which is a source of some confusion. What is not apparantly appreciated anywhere is that Atkinson actually began this venture as a quarterly 16mo (half the size of an octavo) in 1824. I found and overpaid for this volume in the 80's but have yet to see another or any reference to it. A very rare number one issue, to say the least.

The image on the right (1826) is the first wrappered copy of the monthly to contain the engraving.
The Casket is perhaps best known for its hand-colored maps. The remainder of the content is decidedly pedestrian but obviously appealed to the American readers of the time.
Atkinson also published other periodicals. A very rare one is The National Atlas, begun in 1836. I was fortuate to obtain two full volumes. The highlight is this fabulous, rare and valuable (about $2000) map of Texas.

In 1839, the Casket was acquired by George R. Graham, who had also obtained William E. Burton's Gentleman's Magazine in 1840, primarily for it's circulation list of 3500, and combined them into his own new venture, Graham's Magazine.

Also, along with Burton's Magazine came the services of one Edgar Allan Poe, who had also briefly edited it and published many tales and criticisms, most notably "The Fall of the House of Usher" in 1838 (here in original wrappers).
Poe also co-edited the earliest volume of Graham's and published the first detective story, "Murder's in the Rue Morgue" in it in 1840. Graham started his magazine as volume 18 (apparantly continuing the numbering of the Casket). Initial circulation was a sparse 5,500 but by the end of the first year was 25,000 and later considerably more.
The scarce Volume 18 or Graham's today routinely sells for $500-1500 and copies in wrappers are notably rare. I've never seen "Rue Morgue" (the most important and only Poe magazine highlight that has eluded me) in its original wrappers but do have the next issue that contains his "A Descent into the Maelstrom".

Graham's is the pre-eminent title of the 1840's. Later volumes are readily available and collected mostly for the hand-colored fashion engravings.

Perhaps now you are getting some insight into the method of my collecting madness!

If this chronology is a bit confusing, here's an illustration from the first volume of Mott which might help.

1 comment:

Bill said...

Very interesting post, and blog. Found it in my search for information on Graham's for a post of my own later today, the 202nd anniversary of EA Poe's birth ( Interesting to note the stretched pedigree of the Saturday Evening Post. Ben Franklin gets a lot of this, apparently, and his may yet be America's most dropped name. According to my old prof of Philadelphia history, even the University of Pennsylvania engaged, and still engages, in the same sort of tenuous connection with Franklin.