Saturday, January 23, 2010

American Magazine of Wonders. Is it Really a Magazine?

Now that the frenzy of "FDR's Deadly Secret" has diminished to a dull distant roar, I get can get back to the business of magazine history in earnest.

This post was spawned by a recent purchase on ebay of volume two of The American Magazine of Wonders, and Marvellous Chronicle published in 1809 in New York. I've had the first volume in my collection for twenty years and, since the entire run is of only two volumes, it was opportune to finally complete it.

These volumes are quite interesting because they are sort of a "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" of the early 19th century, containing stories and illustrations of the weird, bizarre and off-beat aspects of the time.

The "magazine" is quite scarce, with only five holdings in Union List of Serials (ULS)- three complete at The Library of Congress, American Antiquarian Society and Library Company of Philadelphia, volume one only at The New York Public Library and an incomplete run at The Philadephia Historical Society.

The ultimate reference for magazines of the first decade of the 19th century is the 1955 University of Michigan doctoral thesis of Benjamin M. Lewis entitled "A History and Bibliography of American Magazines 1800-1810. An abridged version in a smaller size was published in 1961.

Here is Doctor Lewis' preface to that edition.
Two copies and one bound reprint are presently availble on for as little as $18.24. The comprehensive original treatise can be obtained (as I did) directly from the University of Michigan. Here's Lewis' description of our magazine:

Now that you know a little more of the thought process involved in finding and researching magazines, let's move on to the next discussion point. Despite the fact that it is listed in ULS and the ultimate authority on it includes it in his bibiography, is it actually a magazine?

The original use of the word "magazine" was as a storehouse, best illustrated by the magazine of a ship for storing munitions. The first use of it in the context of a periodical was by Edward Cave (aka Sylvanus Urban) who employed it in his Gentleman's Magazine, begun in 1731. Cave intended his magazine to be a storehouse of information and his innovative idea obviously stuck.

Now we have to dig even a little deeper into semantics by defining a periodical:

of all these I like the third one best:

"A publication that is produced at regular intervals, or "periodically", and is intended to appear indefinitely. Generally, the frequency of publication is weekly, monthly, quarterly."

By this definition, daily newspapers and annuals are not periodicals but anything published at regular intervals in between is.
As to the second part "intended to appear indefinitely" this is where our Magazine of Wonders gets into trouble, as do many other periodically issued publications, i.e. books in parts, that have a clearly finite and pre-planned life expectancy (Charles Dickens, for example, issued many of his books in parts prior to the final complete book edition). While a subscription list appears in volume two, the title page clearly state "in two volumes- volume two", quite clearly indicating that the author intended it to have a limited life.

Therefore, it is a "magazine" but not a periodical. Sorry Dr. Lewis.

This blog is, in essence, a magazine, since it is indeed a storehouse of information. While it is intended to appear indefinitely (as long as I am above above the ground rather than six feet below it) it is issued notably irregularly, so it really isn't a periodical either.

While I still have it in my collection as an interesting curiosity, and the price I paid to complete the set was well worth it, it really doesn't fit with the "real" magazines I so enjoy collecting.

Crazy huh! But all of us collector's are slightly off center ya know. Thanks for listening.

Enjoy the football playoffs. I will be doing such with my "s.o", my son and daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren.

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