Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amerasia January 26, 1945. The Magazine that Started an Enormous Political Scandal

I don't often get the opportunity to combine my passion for collecting periodicals with my equally active mania for World War II history. This very scarce (under 2000 circulation) magazine fills the bill. I found and purchased it, in a bound volume from a bookfinding site (http://www.bookfinder.com/ my favorite) for under $100. It is undoubtedly one of the most politically important issues of any magazine ever published.

Amerasia was a leftist leaning journal published by Philip J. Jaffe and Kate L. Mitchell. In February 1945, after being given a heads-up by his British colleagues, Kenneth Wells, chief of the Southern Asia section of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the direct predecessor of the CIA) couldn't believe his eyes when he began reading the most recent issue of Amerasia, finding portions, virtually verbatim, of a top secret document he had recently written for the State Department on British policy in Thailand that had only been circulated among top Asia experts in the State Department and military intelligence agencies.

Alerted to the security breach, the OSS began a surveillance and eventual break-in of the Amerasia office, where they found an enormous cache of highly-classified documents from various government agencies, eventually resulting in the arrest of the "Amerasia six" , that included the two editors, triggering the first of the great post-war spy cases (the ones involving Alger Hiss and The Rosenbergs being others of note).

One of the other defendants was John Stuart Service, a high-ranking State Department official in China, who had been relieved of his position by Ambassador Patrick Hurley in a purge of officials he felt were functioning against the policies of the American government to support the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek in favor of the "so-called Communists" and "agarian reformers" led by Mao Tse-Tung.

The concurrent FBI investigation launched as a result of the magazine article uncovered a host of evidence of the association of Service, known Soviet spy Lauchlin Currie and former FDR insider Tom "Tommy the Cork" Corcoran, who made significant efforts to squelch the investigation.
In the early fifties, the defendants in the Amerasia Affair became cannon fodder for the sometimes justified but often paranoid red-baiting ramblings of Senator Joseph McCarthy, a well publicized and unfortunate chapter in American history.
All but for an issue of a seemingly unimportant American periodical!

For a more detailed look at this fascinating event see: The Amerasia Spy Case: prelude to McCarthyism. by Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh. University of North Carolina Press. 1996.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Liberty Magazine

There's a nice article that ran yesterday in The New York Times and is presently featured on its website about entrepeneur Robert Whiteman, who owns the rights to Liberty Magazine.


It seems appropriate to add a little about the magazines collectible aspects.

The cover of the first issue in 1924 has always been one of my favorites for obvious reasons.

It sells for between 100 and 200 dollars when it occaisionally shows up. For the first seven years of its existence, it was a financial loser for right wing McCormick/Patterson publishing empire. In 1931 it was sold to the venerable Bernarr McFadden. The magazine quietly died in 1950.


By far the most collectible issue is that of September 30th 1939 that contains the first important article about Alcoholics Anonymous that essentially jump started the whole organization.


It sells consistently for over $300 is decent condition. I have always been impressed at the nearly religious fervor of demand for this and other AA publications.

The other widely collected AA magazine publication is the March 1, 1941 Saturday Evening Post featuring a cover by Norman Rockwell and, by virtue of the AA article, perhaps the most expensive of all Rockwell Post covers to obtain, other than the first one he did in May 1916. Despite an enormous circulation, there seems to be an unending demand for it and it always sells for over $200.

From an illustration standpoint, Liberty is forever linked with Leslie Thrasher, who did over 360 covers until his death in 1936. Rockwell comments in his 1961 autobiography that the demand on Thrasher by the magazine for a regular supply of material nearly killed him.


Off the top of my head, I can think of no greater number of covers done by any illustrator for any individual magazine (Rockwell did 321 Post covers between 1916 and 1963, one more in total the the venerable J.C. (Joseph Christian) Leyendecker.

The issues in the early thirties with Dr. Seuss illustrations inside bring modest amounts. The most interesting aspect here is the lawsuit won by Liberty owners in the 1960's over the copyright of Seuss' name in conjunction with some dolls they marketed based on his illustrations. (see Nel, p. 141 for details).

The remainder of the issues of Liberty have some topical interest but are generally very common and inexpensive.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Centennial of Mark Twain's Death


I just received an email from a bookselling site (ABE) that mentions it is the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain's death this week.

Twain was then and remains unsurpassed as America's greatest humorist. His work was intimately associated with American magazines from the very outset (at age 18) to the very end. He set the bar for all great the truly native American folk humor that followed ( ala Will Rogers for example).

I am proud to have been able to share many of the finest examples of his work with you. Just as Shakespeare, Twain's great creativity and timeless wry wit will undoubtedly be eternally quoted and enjoyed forever.

To revisit my post of March 2009 on Twain in magazines click here:


Long live the great tradition of American folk humor!

P.S. While I mentioned Rogers, I'd be interested to know from all of you whom you think of today's humorists best fit Twain's mold.

James Joyce, Margaret Anderson, "Ulysses" and The Little Review

I've just posted a new E-book, telling the visual story of the monumental first appearance of "Ulysses" in The Little Review.

Over the years, I've paid special attention to building a high quality run of the original issues. All together I've had about three sets. The magazines are extremely fragile, owing to the poor quality of the paper used. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, despite the importance of their venture, were operating on a financial shoestring. Certain issues (most notably the first installment) have better paper and are a bit less crumbly.

Individual issues sell for around $150 each in decent shape. I value a good complete set at around 10K. The later pirated editions in Samuel Roth's Two Worlds Monthly are considerably more common and less valuable, though they still predate the first American book edition that finally appeared in 1933.

This is yet another great and graphic example of the origins of literature in our magazines. The images of all the covers are shown and will be found nowhere else on the web. Enjoy!


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Only One in the World! A Unique and Important Kansas Magazine

One of the best parts of collecting magazines is the pleasure of finding unique and interesting items for a mere pittance (unlike the more pedestrian avocations of Philately and Numismatics).

A great example is this magazine Push, published in Topeka, Kansas between September 1902 and January 1904. I paid a grand total of $61.05 for what I believe to be the complete run of this monthly. The first seven issues are on slick paper, with top-notch illustrations by art editor, Albert Turner Reid, an illustrator of high repute for a number of important national publications.


After this the paper quality deteriorated and Reid's work no longer appeared, a telltake sign of financial difficulty.

The editor was Thomas Allen McNeal, a prominent Republican newspaperman. The only reference to the magazine on the web is one the website of the Kansas Historical Society, which does not own a copy, as being continued as Household, another Topeka publication, whose first copy is October 1904, Volume 4. No. 2. They were not aware when the title changed. The last issue of Push in my run is Volume 3 No. 1 for January 1904. Since the Kansas Historical Society doenst own a copy, nore is it listed in the Union List of Serials, its a good bet that my 61 dollar acquisition represents pretty much all thats out there.


The first issue bemoans the demise of the important Kansas Magazine. Content includes articles by the vaunted newspaper editor Willam Allen White and many interesting articles, including one on Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth.

The magazine is too large to fit entirely on my scanner but here's a few of Reid's cover illustrations.

I'm happy to once again reinforce the joy and importance of collecting and perhaps share a little insight into the research behind these wonderful pieces of Americana.
Have a few great ideas for some exciting posts to appear shortly. Also, and perhaps most exciting to this blogger, by virtue of this blog I have been contacted by a major publisher who is interested in the collection and might consider my dream project, a coffee table book on the great American magazine!
Enjoy the beautiful springtime. As they used to say on the Mickey Mouse Club, see ya real soon!