Reading old magazines..

I’ve been collecting and reading old magazines just as long as I’ve been collecting and reading old books, ie since at least the age of 16. Though the pleasure each has given me is related, old magazines make for a distinctively different reading experience from old books, because whilst they’re more light-on, more ephemeral, than old books, they offer not just one author, but many authors’ points of view and personalities, not to speak of the presence of the editor/s. They are also a time-capsule of the period in which they were published–not only through the articles and essays and stories and illustrations and photos, but also the ads. These can be a lot of fun in themselves, and sometimes provide some poignant ironies: like the ad from a March 1939 issue of the British literary journal John O’London’s Weekly, which featured a caricature of Hitler. Next to the caricature, in bold type, is a slogan: Don’t Be Alarmed! At first I thought this was an ad for some anti-Nazi British government campaign, but not at all, it was an ad for an art school, and the smaller print read, ‘don’t be alarmed by the challenge of drawing caricatures!’

The earliest old magazine I possess is a French literary periodical called Journal Pour Tous, from October 1832. This features a serialised swashbuckling novel, bits and pieces on stories and legends, short stories and lots of beautiful black and white illustrations. The next oldest is an issue of the famous Scottish literary peridiocal, Blackwood’s, published in May 1862, which features a long article about ‘Sensation’ novels, most of which is a very laudatory discussion of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White’. There’s also travel articles, a piece on the history of Rugby, a story, and lots more, including pages of ads at the beginning of the magazine, which feature some wonderful patent remedies!

Next on the rank is a bound copy of several issues of the social/cultural magazine, London Society, subtitled, ‘an illustrated magazine of light and amusing literature for the hours of relaxation.’ It’s from 1863, and 1864. It’s certainly just what its subtitle suggests, being full of caricatures, satirical pieces, short stories, serilised novels, poetry, and lots and lots of great engravings..
Then there’s a whole stack of the English social magazine, Country Life, from various dates in 1901. It’s full of bits and pieces about rural pursuits, especialy huntin’, shootin’, fishin’, but also all kinds of articles on objects of natural interest, reports of travels(including several about Australia), society photographs, and the doings of the aristocracy and royalty, along with marvellous photographs of villages and villagers. One story that stood out for me was an account of contemporary witchcraft in a Sussex village, and how the villagers, and the squire, coped with it..Fascinating stuff.

The next oldest–and the very first old magazines I ever bought, purchased from a fleamarket in Rouen in Normandy(along with a stack of gorgeous old photos and picture postcards) are some issues of the French social/literary/cultural/current affairs magazine, L’Illustration, from various dates in 1910. These not only have illustrations, but photographs too–of train smashes in Europe, famine in China, sinkings of ships, and a great deal more. There’s articles on fashion, on current affairs, travelogues, bits about food and reviews of novels. They are beautifully written and very pleasant to look at.

Recently, I’ve also purchased issues of The Strand Magazine from the late 1920’s(as I’m doing background research for a series of novels set in that period and in the 1930’s). They feature some excellent stories, including by writers such as Conan Doyle and E.Philips Oppenheim, who wrote some very interesting crime novels set among the footloose expatriate set on the French Riviera. Their ads are also interesting..And my collection of Vanity Fairs from the 1920’s and 1930’s is a great treasure, so much to read, from such excellent writers, and plenty of great pictures.

My most recent discovery, though–a magazine I’d never heard of before finding several issues in a local second-hand bookshop, was the aforementioned John O’London’s Weekly. This is a magazine aimed at writers, and it beats into a cocked hat most of the modern literary journals I’ve read recently–it’s lively, interesting, full of stories, articles and reviews, by all kinds of writers, including HE Bates, GK Chesterton, Hugh Walpole, Freya Stark, and many many more, on all kinds of topics, not just literary ones. There’s also symposia on such topics as ‘Is Pen or Typewriter Best?’ with contributions from writers like Agatha Christie, amongst others, and lots of bright and chirpy ads, for all kinds of things, but focussed basically on ‘writerly’ things such as pens, typewriters, back rubbing ointments, and patent medicines! The reviews are amazing–not just because some of the books profiled would still be read today, and some offer intriguing glimpses into the political and social/cultural debates of the time, but also because so many ‘bestsellers’ of the time have fallen completely by the wayside. It’s a humbling thing, to read them.

There’s lots of wonderful finds in them, though. In one 1937 issue, I came across a review of a book called The Conquest of Crime by Nigel Morland, a writer I’d never heard of before, but who was apparently very well-known. The book detailed the advances in crime detection and forensics since the beginning of the century. Well, I looked up the book on abebooks.com and lo and behold, a second hand bookshop in deepest Cleveland, Ohio, had a copy! So I ordered it and got it in a couple of weeks–and it’s been leading me on to other true-crime books of the period which will be of great help in my project. So there you go–the best of the new with the best of the old! A 1937 book review sells yet another copy of a long-forgotten book; but it’s the Internet that allowed me to pinpoint exactly that title. One of the real pleasures of modern life, indeed.

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Juanita Cox
Juanita Cox
2022 years ago

I enjoyed reading your article. I think you have hit on surely the best way to gain a feel for particular historical junctures. I’m currently carrying out research into the distribution of periodicals like John O’London’s weekly into the Caribbean during the interwar period. I’m looking in particular for an edition that was published in 1934 which contains an article by an English novelist about his/her journey down the Berbice river in British Guiana. If you happen to come across an article which fits that description, I would be grateful if you could let me know. I’d ideally like to obtain a photocopy of the article and would be happy to cover any costs involved. On a final note, I hope you will keep us informed of any other interesting finds. Your article was really very interesting. Yours sincerely Juanita Cox

Juanita Cox
Juanita Cox
2022 years ago

I enjoyed reading your article. I think you have hit on surely the best way to gain a feel for particular historical junctures. I’m currently carrying out research into the distribution of periodicals like John O’London’s weekly into the Caribbean during the interwar period. I’m looking in particular for an edition that was published in 1934 which contains an article by an English novelist about his/her journey down the Berbice river in British Guiana. If you happen to come across an article which fits that description, I would be grateful if you could let me know. I’d ideally like to obtain a photocopy of the article and would be happy to cover any costs involved. On a final note, I hope you will keep us informed of any other interesting finds. Your article was really very interesting. Yours sincerely Juanita Cox

Juanita Cox
Juanita Cox
2022 years ago

I enjoyed reading your article. I think you have hit on surely the best way to gain a feel for particular historical junctures. I’m currently carrying out research into the distribution of periodicals like John O’London’s weekly into the Caribbean during the interwar period. I’m looking in particular for an edition that was published in 1934 which contains an article by an English novelist about his/her journey down the Berbice river in British Guiana. If you happen to come across an article which fits that description, I would be grateful if you could let me know. I’d ideally like to obtain a photocopy of the article and would be happy to cover any costs involved. On a final note, I hope you will keep us informed of any other interesting finds. Your article was really very interesting. Yours sincerely Juanita Cox

Elaine Russell
2022 years ago

Hello Juanita et.al.,
We have just acquired a large inventory of over 500 issues of John O’ London’s Weekly covering the years 1926-1940. I believe the article you are referring to is in the March 24,1934 issue, “A Waugh In the Wilds” by A.C. MacDonell. It is an extensive review of Mr. Evelyn Waugh’s book “Ninety-Two Days” (Duckworth 1934), which chronicled his journey up the Berbice River thru British Guiana.
Aside from the expected Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, and D.H. Lawrence material-reviews, commentary, quotes,gossip, etc., we have discovered a wealth of Arthur Machen articles in JOLW, including one that does not appear in the Goldstone & Sweetser Bibliography.
In the issues we have encountered so far there was a great deal written on Spiritualism by Sir Oliver Lodge, and of course Harry Price. JOLW even sponsored the National Telepathy Contest.
I would be interested in finding out the Who’s Who of the JOLW columnists.
The JOLW persepective on American writers of the period was rather curious in that they lauded the usual Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Saroyan. They were fascinated by Dorothy Parker and George Jean Nathan. Yet, the all-important H.L. Mencken seems to have been loudly ignored by deliberate omission. Elaine Russell, Sangraal Books