The Penny Magazine shows itself being sold from what looks like a railway station stall in 1904
Self-referential magazine cover covers are a not-so-subtle form of marketing and are pretty rare, but they do crop up, seemingly more often on weekly magazines than monthlies. It’s a brand marketing strategy, though that is not likely to have been a term on anyone’s lips at the time the front cover above was published.
This is the earliest one I’ve noticed, from 1904. It plugs not only itself but its sister magazine from publishers Cassell, the monthly Cassell Magazine, which cost 6d. This strategy of having a cheap weekly and upmarket monthly was common for publishers in the Victorian and Edwardian era. The Penny Magazine had been founded in 1898 as the New Penny Magazine, shortening the name in 1903 and continuing until 1925. The story-based sister monthly was published under various titles from 1853 to 1932. Other magazines shown or partly visible are three titles for children, Chums (1892-1934), Quiver (1861-1926) and Little Folks; and Cassell’s Saturday Journal (1883-1924) again all from Cassell.
The black-and-white cover illustration with its red spot colour is not a particularly well-crafted image, but then most of these penny weeklies were pretty cheap. It is signed E Lander, probably Edgar Lander (1872–1958). The quality of some titles improved as sales grew for those titles from the likes of Newnes and Harmsworth that were able to achieve very high sales.
Illustrator Edgar Lander’s signature
Lander worked for several better-produced magazines, including Harmsworth’s Boys’ Friend comic and Royal magazine. He was married to another artist, Hilda Cowham (1873-1964), whose signature character was a flighty young girl in a black pinny and white bow with a black cat who appeared in magazines such as Home Chat, Home Notes and Pick Me Up. She did cuter, more homely girls who were used on pottery and for London Underground posters. In The Strand of August 1913 (US edition) Cowham wrote and illustrated an article ‘Amusing Children I Have Met’ in which she talked about receiving letters from ‘mothers saying that they have dressed their little ones like a Hilda Cowham girl’.
Lander’s drawing portrays a railway bookstall of the kind run by WH Smith and Wyman & Sons. No actual cover is shown on the stall, just the magazines’ titles. The uniformed lad with his sales tray looks like he may be selling maps and guides. Note that the Penny Magazine describes itself as being for travellers and commuters – ‘for rail, road, river or sea’.
Cassell is a name that dates back to 1848, when the company was founded by John Cassell. The magazines were an offshoot of his book publishing and were probably regarded as a way of developing writers and promoting established names. Cassell ceased being an independent publisher in 1999 – a decade of concentration in book publishing – when it was bought up by Orion Publishing Group, itself owned by the French group Lagardère. Today, Cassell is an illustrated imprint of Octopus Publishing.