Archive for the ‘victorian magazines’ Category

Arthur Rackham’s magazine masthead

May 30, 2020

ladies-field-magazine-masthead-1898-by-arthur-rackham-signature

The best publishers stay that way by using the best suppliers, from writers to illustrators to paper merchants. And front page titles, mastheads as they are now known, are a case in point. I was struck by this one, which is from the first issue of The Ladies’ Field from 1898.

The magazine was a spin-off from Country Life, which had been launched the previous year by Edward Hudson, who owned the printers Hudson & Kearns, and George Newnes, publisher of Tit-Bits and The Strand. As was common at the time, the cover was a protective ‘wrapper’ dominated by advertising.

ladies-field-magazine-1898-march-19-first-issue

And a close inspection shows that the masthead artwork was by no less than Arthur Rackham, renowned as one of the best illustrators of the era for his work on books such as Peter Pan and Grimms Fairy Tales.

 

 

Harry Furniss: he Lika Joko

January 10, 2020
Lika Joko first issue cover

Lika Joko first issue cover in 1894. It was ‘conducted’ by Harry Furniss

Harry Furniss was a popular black and white artist of the late Victorian and Edwardian periods who launched his own magazine, Lika Joko in 1894 after he left Punch. The name was a pun on ‘like a joke’ and one of his noms-de-crayon. Like many periodicals of the time, the cover was dominated by advertising.

Note how Furniss portrays himself alongside the magazine’s title with his quill pen piercing the artist’s palette and the nib appearing to be covered in blood – the pen being mightier than the sword. He is dressed in a kimono with sheets of paper held in place at his back by the belt. The patterns on the kimono are formed from parts of his signature. The lettering of the title also has a Japanese feel. Furniss had produced a series of cartoons, ‘Our Japanneries’, under the name Lika Joko in 1888, pretending to be ‘the celebrated Japanese Artist … who is now on a visit to this country’. In the late Victorian period, Japan had a huge influence of art in Britain, resulting in a phenomenon known as Japonisme. Japan and Britain were great allies until World War II.

Illustration from Lika Joko editorial page: How Harry Furniss portrayed Mr Punch and Toby

How Harry Furniss portrayed Mr Punch and Toby in the Lika Joko editorial

On Punch, Furniss was renowned for his quick-fire caricatures of MPs in parliament for the Essence of Parliament pages, which were collated into books, but he turned his pen to all sorts of subjects and illustrated many books. RGG Price in his History of Punch (1957) says: ‘During the years of his Punch work, Harry Furniss dominated the pages. He was all over the place with jokes, illustrations, dramatic criticisms, headings and parliamentary sketches … It is said that he would chat to a man and caricature him on a pad held in his pocket.’

One of his cartoons in the satirical weekly was a spoof on advertising for A&F Pears (now part of Unilever), which used endorsements from celebrities such as the actress and notable beauty, Lillie Langtry, to sell its translucent amber soap. The spoof (26 April 1884) showed a tramp writing a letter saying:

I used your Soap two years ago; since then I have used no other.

Furniss and Punch fell out when the magazine sold the copyright in the drawing to Pears for use in advertising. Price describes Furniss as being ‘dictatorial and slick’ over the issue and the Punch people as ‘patient and disinterested’ in their correspondence. Despite this, the Pears advert was carried on the back cover of the first issue of Lika Joko – see at the bottom of this post – though with a slightly different caption. Pears used the Furniss cartoon advert at least for 16 years – I have a copy of it in a 1910 issue of TP’s Magazine.

pears_soap_bubbles_original_337_475.jpg pears_soap_bubbles_crop.jpeg

Pears took the Millais painting ‘A Child’s World’, added a bar of soap by the boy’s foot to advertising reproductions, and called it ‘Bubbles’

Pears famously turned another image, the painting ‘A Child’s World’ by the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Millais, into advertising – the  image became so famous because it was reproduced as colour lithographs millions of times over several decades. Thomas Barratt, the company’s managing director, bought the painting from Illustrated London News owner Sir William Ingram, who had reproduced it in the magazine as a colour poster for a Christmas issue. Pears had the image copied with a bar of its soap added and today we know it as ‘Bubbles’.

Barratt has been described as ‘the father of modern advertising’ for his innovative strategies. The boy in the painting was the artist’s grandson, Willie James, who later became a Royal Navy admiral. Like Pears’ soap, ‘Bubbles’ is now owned by Unilever and is on loan to the Lady Lever art gallery in Port Sunlight, on the Wirral. Copies of the colour advertising can be seen online from the V&A museum catalogue.

Pear's soap took the back page of Lika Joko with its Harry Furniss advertisement

Pears took the back page of Lika Joko with its Harry Furniss advert

Lika Joko lasted for just 26 issues, from 20 October 1894 to 13 April 1895. Price describes how Furniss was refused a gallery ticket to parliament for Lika Joko – a disaster for a political caricaturist – and that this proved fatal to the paper. Later, Furniss went to the US, where the Internet Movie Database lists him as directing, writing and appearing in three films for Edison Studios, a company controlled by the inventor Thomas Edison: The Mighty Hunters and The Artist’s Joke (1912), and Rival Reflections (1914). Furniss returned to Britain and has been credited with helping to pioneer animated cartoon films in 1914 with War Cartoons and Peace and Pencillings. The BFI credits Furniss on 15 films.

There is a short film online at Brighton University, Winchelsea and its Surroundings. A Day with Harry Furniss and his Sketchbook, which shows Furniss at the cottage of Helen Terry and painting the actress. Other scenes are filmed in Winchelsea and Hastings.

Price reckons Furniss made a lot of money but lost most of it to making films. He died in 1925, in the seaside town of Hastings, where he is buried.

The National Portrait Gallery has a self-portrait of Furniss and more than 450 of his sketches for sale online as prints.

>> Harry Furniss profile in Tit-Bits, alongside Sir Leslie Ward (‘Spy’ of Vanity Fair) and the theatrical caricaturist Alfred Bryan

>> More on Punch, a weekly satirical magazine that lasted 150 years


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design

 

 


Scare fiction and War of the Worlds

December 29, 2019
Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 18.43.08

War of the Worlds by HG Wells as re-envisaged by the BBC

The BBC’s Christmas adaptation of the War of the Worlds has brought the HG Wells work to fresh audiences. The original serial is an iconic piece of fiction and certainly boosted the reputation of Pearson’s, the monthly magazine that first published it, in 1897. It was part of a genre called ‘scare fiction’ that was popular – and influential – from the 1870s into the First World War. The inspiration for such works came from the changing European alliances of the Victorian era.

Britain was at war throughout the nineteenth century. Having put Napoleon’s ambitions to rest – with Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar and then Wellington’s at Waterloo in 1815 – there came the Crimea War against Russia. That ended in 1856, after which the hostilities were mainly outside Europe. The conflicts were about cementing the empire – the Zulu war, Abyssinia, two Anglo-Boer wars, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Nile campaigns among them. The British were able to win using small, well-drilled forces on land and sea, local allies, and superior weapons. Meanwhile, alongside these far-flung conflicts, writers were imagining how war might look closer to home, against a modern European power.

battle-of-dorking-blackwoods-magazine

The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney sparked a new genre, scare fiction

A short story in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine fired the starting gun for scare fiction in May 1871. The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer, told of an invasion and was to influence public debate right up to the start of the Great War. Blackwood’s was an influential right-wing monthly – known as ‘Maga’ – that was sold globally as well as at home. Blackwood’s established the careers, among others, of Middlemarch author George Eliot and Joseph Conrad with Heart of Darkness. The initially anonymous Battle of Dorking (by army engineer George Tomkyns Chesney) describes how a secret weapon deployed by the unnamed enemy (though clearly Prussians – who had secured  the victory against Napoleon at Waterloo) destroys the Royal Navy, with the ineffectual defenders on land being defeated near Dorking in Surrey when they try to block the invaders’ road to London. The invading force conquers Britain and the empire is then broken up.

The work sold more than 100,000 copies as a pamphlet and was published in a number of editions as a book and translated into several languages. In the Second World War, a German edition was issued to Hitler’s army as Was England Erwartet (What England Expects). The Blackwood’s story was mentioned is several parliamentary debates from June 1871 and such was its influence that William Gladstone, the prime minister, had to speak out against the ‘alarmism’ it had generated. Four months after the May issue of Blackwood’s appeared, army manoeuvres involving 30,000 men were held on the Hog’s Back, a ridge between Farnham and Guildford in Surrey. Later, forts were built in the area. Chesney went on to become a reforming general and was knighted for his work in Britain and India. For one academic, Patrick Kirkwood:

The Battle of Dorking was central to the parliamentary, military and public ‘invasion’ controversies of the 1870s. Subsequent developments, ranging from recurring print and parliamentary debates, to military manoeuvres and the eventual building of a series of forts along the North Downs support this position … The Battle of Dorking was equal parts fantasy ‘invasion literature’ and policy document. Its frequent citation by members of both houses of parliament, and by military men engaged in public and private debates, serves to back this claim, as does Chesney’s rapid integration into the pro-military reform wing of the Conservative Parliamentary Party of the 1890s.

Adding to the genre, Liverpool-Irish journalist Louis Tracy wrote several books about future war, the best known being the 1896 Final War, a book dedicated to ‘Private Thomas Atkins’ (a nickname for the average British soldier that dates back at least to the time of the Battle of Waterloo – from which we get ‘Tommy’). He saw his work as describing ‘a great war to be the end of all war’ and it ends in victory for the British with the help of the United States against the Germans and French. Tracy’s books include elements of science fiction, with a British secret weapon, the ‘Thompson Electric Rifle’, helping ensure victory.

Martian-machine-War-of-the-Worlds-Warwick-Goble-1897

A Martian machine wreaks havoc in War of the Worlds, illustrated by Warwick Goble, 1897

The invasion theme was taken up by HG Wells in War of the Worlds, which was published in Pearson’s Magazine in parts from June 1897. The brilliant illustrations were by Warwick Goble. For Wells, the enemy comes from another planet and, though the aliens easily overwhelm the defenders, they are ultimately defeated by nature, in the form of bacteria. As with Chesney’s book, the Surrey stockbroker belt is pivotal, with the Martians landing on the edge of the town of Woking, just fourteen miles from Dorking.

The big-selling penny weekly magazines did not miss out on the invasion craze, with Northcliffe’s Answers, one the best-selling, serialising Frederick White’s The Lion’s Claw, which has the old enemies, the French and Russians, invading. And the next week in 1900, Pearson’s Weekly put out one of Tracy’s thrillers The Invaders: A Story of Britain’s Peril, with the Germans as the villains of the piece.

Three years later, Germany returns as the enemy when a gathering invasion force is discovered in Robert Erskine Childers’ ripping yarn, Riddle of the Sands. In 1906, The Invasion of 1910 by William Le Queux adds German fifth columnists to the mix. Two years after that, in War Inevitable by Alan Burgoyne, an MP who specialised in naval affairs, a fictionalised Lord Kitchener comes to the rescue after German motor torpedo boats devastate the British fleet in a sneak attack.

A year before the horrific real war breaks out, When William Came by ‘Saki’ (Hector Hugh Munro) was published. This book follows on from Chesney’s theme of forty years earlier, describing life under German occupation: the ‘William’ of the title is Kaiser Wilhelm II – ‘Kaiser Bill’ to the British people at the time. With the outbreak of the real war, a new edition of The Battle of Dorking was published.

Ralph Straus wrote a summary of ‘scare-fictionists’ in the second issue of Bystander magazine after the Great War was declared. The genre is often referred to by academics now as ‘invasion literature’. The article, ‘Armageddon – in prophecy’, is illustrated with a painting of aerial warfare by Guy Lipscombe from Burgoyne’s War Inevitable. He discusses how ‘About the middle of the century Germany definitely emerged to take France’s old place as our potential enemy’ and describes how such writers ‘have come to the truth’.

The greatest writer of the era, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was slow to come to the genre, but addressed it in a prophetic way, for both world wars. In its July 1914 issue, The Strand published ‘Danger! Being the log of Captain John Sirius’ by the Sherlock Holmes creator. He envisaged Britain being starved into submission by enemy submarines. The enemy was the fictional country of Norland, a thinly disguised Germany.

These fictional works spurred debate in the real world. As the new century began, Britain was the only European power that did not have a large conscript army, even though prominent figures had been pressing for compulsory military service since the first Boer War. Among these advocates was George Shee, a barrister and Liberal imperialist, who in 1901 published The Briton’s First Duty: The Case for Conscription in which he argued for a compulsory home defence army to protect against invasion. Despite the strength of the Royal Navy on the high seas, it could not guarantee being able to prevent an invasion force crossing the English Channel, only that it would be able to cut the invaders’ supply lines. Out of the conscription movement came the National Service League, a group founded in 1902. It argued the army was too weak to fight a major war and that national service was the only answer. Boer War hero Lord Roberts later led the league and saw its membership increase from 2,000 to about 95,000 by 1913.

And the success of The Invasion of 1910 – built on Le Queux’s ability to secure the backing of Lord Roberts and the media might of Lord Northcliffe – has been identified as a factor in the founding of the Secret Service in the form of MI5 and MI6. As a result, 41 German agents were identified and arrested in Britain between 1911 and the outbreak of the war.

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This post is based on a section from the book, ‘Kitchener Wants You’, by Martyn Thatcher and myself.

George Newnes and his Millionaires

July 25, 2019

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The valiant attempt by George Newnes to bring colour to the masses, ‘the million’ as they were described in the early 1890s, was the subject of a paper I gave in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago.

The Million, an ambitious penny weekly, is rarely discussed*, but was a rare failure for the man who pretty much invented the modern magazine industry – and became one of the richest men in the country in the process. Magazine publishers such as Cassell and Hodder & Stoughton would soon become, in today’s parlance, legacy brands, and were left to concentrate on book publishing.

But Britain was slow to adopt colour printing. Although the Illustrated London News had started at trend for colour supplements at Christmas in 1855, colour was still reserved for special occasions and papers for children. There were colour weeklies in France and the US, however.

Newnes had launched Tit-Bits, the best-selling weekly, in 1881, and The Strand, the best-selling monthly thanks to Sherlock Holmes, ten years later. The Million started as a tabloid-size magazine in 1892 and lasted for about three years, though it halved its page size during that time and had two redesigns (usually a sign of problems). Its readers were called, of course, ‘Millionaires’ – Newnes was nothing if not aspirational for his audience.

coloured photograph of a lifeboat coxswain in The Million, 1894

Coloured photograph of a lifeboat coxswain in The Million, 1894

The size, quality and number of colour engravings falls sharply in the final year, though there are some surprises; a coloured photograph of a lifeboat coxswain in September 1894 is particularly striking.

The Million was printed on letterpress machines – so did not have to use expensive paper – by the London Colour Printing Company at their works in Exmoor St, Notting Hill. The same printer later produced Puck, a colour cartoon paper launched by Harmsworth in 1904 and seemingly modelled on a US paper with the same format and title. Harmsworth’s Amalgamated had also tried colour for a one-off edition of a comic paper called The Funny Wonder in 1898 (May 28).

In fact, Guy Lawley, a fellow researcher at the conference, told me that the colour presses used by Newnes were bought from Hippolyte Auguste Marinoni, who already used letterpress for a supplement to his French daily tabloid Le Petit Journal. This was the best-selling paper in France – probably the world – claiming a million print run in the early 1890s.

Le Petit Journal appears to have started publishing an eight-page colour illustrated supplement on Fridays in November 1890, judging by adverts on the front page of online digitised copies of the daily edition at the French national library. The price was 5 centimes, the same as the daily edition. Soon after, the supplement itself was claiming print runs of just over a million.

Guy adds that the success of Le Petit Journal and The Million inspired US newspaper publishers to turn to colour. The Chicago Inter Ocean added a free Sunday colour supplement in 1892, three months after The Million; The New York World added colour pages from 1893 and later a colour section. The Inter Ocean referred to the success of both Le Petit Journal‘s Supplément Illustré and the Million in its editorial announcing the coming of colour.

The New York supplements evolved into colour Sunday comics section, a development that was then copied across the country, giving birth to a new form of mass entertainment in the US.

As for the US Puck, that was printed using a different printing technology, lithography, until it was taken over by William Randolph Hearst in 1917, and closed down. However, in 1918, he resurrected the name Puck on his own Sunday comics supplement for the New York Journal, so it was also printed on newspaper-type colour letterpress presses.

Guy is working on a PhD thesis about colour printing and US newspaper comics.

Print Networks and the Centre for Printing History & Culture organised the conference, Dregs, dross and debris: the art of transient print. Discussions are under way about collating the talks as proceedings, or publishing them in Publishing History or Printing History and Culture.

*Kate Jackson’s Newnes and the new journalism in Britain, 1880-1910 has the most to say about it; Dave Reed doesn’t mention it. My British Magazine Design shows one of the smaller format covers. The issues are available in the British Library as bound volumes

General weekly magazines

The Strand magazine

 


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


What’s a magazine worth? Country Life

January 1, 2017
Country Life magazine front cover of Prince Charles, 12 November 2014

Country Life magazine front cover of Prince Charles, 12 November 2014

Two people have emailed me asking about Country Life. The first writes:

I have a number of editions of Country Life magazine dating from 1976 to 2015; BBC Gardener’s World most of 1992-95; about 20 editions of the Royal Horticultural Society journal Garden from 1994-95 and Gardens Illustrated from 1994 and 1995.  Most are in good condition.

And the second:

My friend has every single issue of Country Life from the mid-1960s to the present date. Are these of interest to you? If not, then any ideas? They are all in perfect condition. Located in Central London

Selling magazines on eBay

Ebay has become a massive place to sell magazines, with 700,000 on sale at the moment. Narrowing things down to Country Life, there are 2,617 copies for sale. But will they sell? In the past six months, 2,082 lots have been listed (some of these will have been listed more than once). Of these, 261 lots have sold – a rate of 13%, or about one in eight.

How much does a copy of Country Life sell for?

In terms of price, the biggest listing sold was a lot of 1,400 copies from 1989 to the present day, which fetched £100 (7p a copy). A lot of 280 issues from the 1970s fetched £75 (27p a copy). A 1927 quarterly bound volume sold for £19.99, plus £10 postage.

Country Life magazine front cover 1963 January 10

Country Life magazine front cover, 1963, January 10

In terms of single issues, the highest price was a best offer accepted against £65 on what appeared to be a copy of the first issue. I say ‘appeared to be’ because I have seen facsimile copies of the first issue – and there was nothing in the listing that would convince me it was a real first issue. This is where the expertise of the seller comes in and any buyer at such a price should ask some searching questions. Next highest price was £25 for eight separate lots.

Of the 246 copies that sold, 98 (about 40%) went for £5-10 (including postage). This would suggest that unless you are selling pre-1980s copies, and are keen to sell, £9.99 including postage should be your top offer price. Only 71 of the 246 listings (about 30%) were auctions, most were buy-it-nows.

Single issue price (inc post) No. sold
less than £3 11
£3-5 79
£5-10 98
£10-15 38
£15-20 9
£20-30 11
246

Is there a pattern in what sells well on eBay?

Yes. Pre-1955 issues achieved the best prices and are the rarest. The eight copies that sold at £25 were all published during the First World War. However, these copies appear to have been bought by the same person – it may have been a collector or it may have been someone buying for a one-off reason, for example a museum preparing for an exhibition. There is no guarantee that someone else selling the same issues would get the same price.

A 1955 three-month bound volume sold for £20 and a 1903 volume for £25 (2 bids). All the single issues that sold for £15-£20 were dated before 1946. They were all on a buy-it-now listing.

What else can the eBay data tell us?

EBay listings can have a lot of data attached to them, though some of it can be incomplete or contradictory. In the case of magazines, the year and month can be added for example, though most people do not do it. So, of the 2,082 sold listings I’m analysing, only 347 gave the year of publication. This, however, leads to an interesting finding, as we’ll see in a moment. First, the overall figures.

Country Life sales based on eBay data for 347 lots
No. listed No. sold Sold (%)
2010s 67 18 27
2000s 7 1 14
1990s 71 8 11
1980s 17 3 18
1970s 35 19 54
1960s 78 26 33
1950s 44 18 41
1940s 28 4 14
1930s 1
1900s 7
347 105 30%
All lots sold 2082 253 12%

The most popular decade in terms of number listed was the 1960s, with a third of these sold. However, the 1970s (54% sold) and 1950s (41% sold) had a better success rate. Note the figures for the 1990s – 71 listed but only an 11% success rate.

The really interesting figure comes when you compare the selling success rate – 30% – for the people who filled in the year data with the 12% success rate for all the 2082 copies sold. It seems that people who fill in the year field are three times as likely to sell their copy of Country Life! Why should this be so? It can’t be just down to a factor such as buyers searching on a year, because most sellers put that in their listing title. It is probably because these are more expert sellers. The fact that they go to the trouble of filling in the extra data points to their doing everything well.

What about the gardening titles?

First, Gardener’s World. Not a great seller simply because there are so many around – it’s been the best-seller almost since its first issue; it is well produced so lasts well; and is a comparatively new title (early 1990s launch). The most a single issue has fetched recently is £3.99 (inclusive). It’s a similar story in terms of price for the RHS’s Garden (£3.50) and Gardens Illustrated (£4.99). However, bundles of these titles do seem to be selling, for example a dozen copies for £20 plus postage (£5.50). This is better for buyers and spreads the postage cost (which can be as much as is being asked for the magazine!).

First issues of Country Life

As either a seller or buyer, be careful of first issues of Country Life – is it the real thing or a modern reproduction? The giveaway is the printing technique. Most magazines before 1950 will have been printed letterpress, with gravure for big run titles between about 1930 and 1990. The first issue of Country Life was letterpress, so should show signs of the impression of the type on the pages. Modern copies using offset lithography will be smooth.

Is Country Life worth collecting?

Country Life magazine front cover from 2009, December

Country Life magazine front cover from 2009, December

Yes. It has a long, distinguished history and is of interest to scholars in many areas as well as collectors of many goods besides magazines. The target market has always been the upper classes with grand houses, scholarly tastes and an interest in rural affairs. The advertising is of particular interest to upmarket estate agents. It is a weekly, has always had a strong element of news and so has documented changing tastes in high society. The size of this market is limited and so sales have never been substantial – today it sells about 40,000 copies a week.

Country Life was one of the titles that expanded the fortune of George Newnes, who had founded both Tit-Bits and The Strand, when he teamed up with the printer Edward Hudson in the 1897. Gertrude Jekyll wrote the gardening column. The early issues are also of interest to architectural historians, with some excellent writers, reflecting Hudson’s own passions and love of civilised English life. Hudson was key in establishing the career of Edward Lutyens and commissioned the architect to restore Lindisfarne Castle.

The Newnes publishing company became part of IPC in the 1960s and Country Life was later published by the UK arm of the US publisher Time Inc. The company’s offices at 110 Southwark Street in Borough, London, were a stone’s throw from where Hudson had his family printing business, Hudson and Kearns, at number 83, and in nearby Hatfields. The company dates back to 1831 but was subsumed into Keliher, Hudson and Kearns, though that company no longer exists.

The early editorial offices for Country Life were in Southampton Street, Covent Garden. In the early 2000s, Time Inc UK seemed to be dismantling the company and sold off many titles. It also sold the Southwark Street office and moved some magazines out to reduce costs. Country Life now has an address in a business park in Farnborough, Hants, suggesting a lack of investment in the title. However, even if this penny-pinching strategy leads to a decline in Country Life‘s fortunes, its history and contacts should enable it to attract a better owner – and its history can never be taken away. If I were the editor, I’d be trying to do a management buy-out.

To sum up

Country Life is a magazine worth selling on eBay. Pre-1990 issues can fetch a good price (£15 and upwards), but more recent copies are likely to sell for £5-10. I haven’t noticed any particular issue selling well. There are some copies of a 2014 Prince Charles issue being offered for £30+, but I think these sellers are going to have to wait a long time.

Gardening titles are not worth spending time on and are probably better off being sold in bundles – check the weight and offer as many as you can while staying in the cheapest postal band.

The finding that people who fill out date fields for a listing are three times as likely to sell their magazine suggests that building up eBay expertise pays off.

>>Hints & tips for buying and selling magazines on eBay


To see almost 500 magazine covers and pages, look out for my book, A History of British Magazine Design, from the Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art and design


 

The Strand magazine and its iconic cover

May 31, 2016
Strand magazine front cover design from March 1891 by George Charles Haité

Strand magazine front cover from March 1891 by George Charles Haité

The Strand is one of the world’s most collected magazines, both in Britain and the US. The reason for its fame to this day lies undoubtedly in the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. If you want to buy a set of the 75 issues that carried the Sherlock Holmes stories, you can expect to pay £55,000!

The magazine started with a cover date of January 1891, but, as happens today, was available a week or two before that date. It was a goldmine for its publisher, George Newnes, selling about 300,000 copies a month for the next 40 years in Britain and another 100,000 in the US until 1916. From the start, it was published in America with much the same content, but a month later, with its own editor, James Walter Smith. It was a trendsetting title, with an illustration on every page, a dedicated puzzles page and publishing not only Conan Doyle but also E.W. Hornung, H.G. Wells, E. Nesbit, Rudyard Kipling,  O. Henry, and P. G. Wodehouse. The cover stated ‘edited by Geo. Newnes’ until 1914, but the power behind the editorial throne was Herbert Greenhough Smith, the literary editor, who worked on the magazine from 1891 to 1930. The magazine’s offices were in Burleigh Street off The Strand in London.

In an article to mark the 100th issue (April 1899), ‘A chat about its history‘ by Newnes, he says that it was originally to be called the Burleigh Street Magazine, but this was too long, so the Strand Magazine was chosen.

Its first cover design by George Charles Haité – like that of Richard Doyle’s for Punch – was long-lasting and is an icon of illustration. One of its early Haité covers (displayed on an iPad) was used for the jacket of Revolutions from Grub Street, a history of magazine publishing from Oxford University Press by Howard Cox and Simon Mowatt. But that iconic Strand cover is not as constant as you might think, as we’ll see. This post explores why the Strand cover looked the way it did and how it tried to change with the times.

George Haité – the Strand cover artist

Portrait of George Charles Haite at the National Portrait Gallery

Photograph of George Charles Haite taken about 1885 (held by the National Portrait Gallery)

George Charles Haité (1855-1924) was a decorative artist, designer, painter, illustrator and writer and lecturer on art.

His father, George Haité (1825-1871), was a fabric designer, many of whose works are in the V&A Museum, alongside hundreds by his son, who often signed himself GC Haité. Hundreds of GC’s designs were donated by his daughter, and are stamped with his address: Ormaby Lodge, The Avenue, Bedford Park, in West London.

GC was the first president of the London Sketch Club in 1898, set up at premises in  Chelsea for graphic artists and featuring leading black-and-white artists artists such as Tom Browne, Phil May, Alfred Leete, Edmund Dulac, John Hassall, Heath Robinson and HM Bateman. The National Portrait Gallery holds two portraits of GC, showing the walrus moustache that dominated his face.

Haiti’s view down The Strand

Haité’s iconic illustration shows the view looking east along The Strand towards the church of St Mary-le-Strand. Then, as now, The Strand runs from Charing Cross to Temple Bar – two London landmarks that have also given their names to magazines. Temple Bar was a gate placed where The Strand ends and Fleet St begins, at the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. The Wren-designed gateway became a bottleneck for traffic and so was removed in 1878. It now stands in Paternoster Square, by St Paul’s Cathedral.

The Strand was regarded as a fashionable thoroughfare, linking the City of London and St Paul’s with Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall – the financial, religious and political establishments at the heart of the British Empire. At its east end, it became the media hub of Fleet Street – the fourth estate – and at its west end was Trafalgar Square.

Strand Magazine from March 1891

Strand Magazine front cover of March 1891

The Strand and Burleigh Street - the view as it is today

The Strand and Burleigh Street – the view as it is today with ornate street lamps lit. Just past the traffic lights on the right is Lancaster Place, leading south to Waterloo bridge

Haité’s view is pretty accurate, as the photograph above shows. The image was drawn from the bottom of Burleigh Street, where the offices of Tit-Bits and Strand publisher George Newnes were located. There are several details worth noting:

Sixpenny coin - the price of a copy of the Strand in 1891 Burleigh Street sign on the cover of Strand magazine in 1891 Hoarding points to the George Newnes offices in Burleigh Street
Price of an issue Street sign
Strand magazine title hanging from telegraph wires No 359, the building at the corner of Burleigh St and The Strand
The title lettering is hung from telegraph wires across the street The number 359, The Strand address of the property on the corner Board points towards 12 Burleigh St. There would have been no such hoarding

Street vendor on the Strand cover is selling copies of Tit-Bits magazine

Also note the two newspaper sellers, one dashing across the road, the nearer one on the pavement selling copies of Tit-Bits – you can make out the title on the copy under his arm. This, of course, is a reference to the weekly magazine that established Newnes’ name in 1881, was the first example of the mass media and became the progenitor of today’s tabloid press.

Most of the pedestrians are men and the back of the stout gentleman on the left looks as if it could have been a true portrayal, but who could it be? George Newnes, the magazine’s founder? The artist himself looks too scrawny in the many sketches of him by fellow artists (though one of the NPG portraits shows that Haité’s figure filled out later!).

Within the first issue

Modern-day street lamps in The strandThe first issue of the Strand carried a 10-page article about the famous thoroughfare and its surrounds with several sketches by Haité. One showed the view north from The Strand to 12 Burleigh St, where both the Strand and Tit-Bits were published. Crossing over the Strand from Burleigh St takes you straight into the Savoy hotel. Again, the sketch can be compared with the view today – and a 1940s illustration of the same building from when it was occupied by Queen magazine, a title that dates back to 1861. Compare the street lamps in Haité’s Burleigh St sketch below with the lit lamps in the modern-day Strand photograph – they look very similar.

Haité's view of Burleigh St from the Strand showing the Tit-Bits office with its massive rooftop sign on the right

Haite’s sketch of Burleigh St from the Strand showing the Tit-Bits office with its huge rooftop sign on the right

Former Tit-Bits and Strand office at 12 Burleigh St in 2015

The former Tit-Bits and Strand office at 12 Burleigh St, without the rooftop sign. Exeter St runs to the right

The glossy monthly Queen occupied the old Tit-Bits office in 1947

Queen occupied the old Tit-Bits office in 1947. Another former occupant was Health & Strength in 1910

The article notes that the street took its name from Lord Burleigh, a leading statesmen in the time of Elizabeth I, who lived on the site of the Tit-Bits office at the corner of Burleigh St and Exeter St (today best known for the American-style restaurant, Joe Allen’s). Exeter St takes its name from Burleigh’s son, the Earl of Exeter.

It goes on to explain that many street names on the south side of The Strand came from the nobles on whose former riverside palaces the area was developed, including George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. He lived at York House, where today you find the Adelphi and the Adam brothers architecture around the Royal Society of Arts. The Palace of the Savoy has engraved itself in the area as the name of the world famous hotel (where taxis drive in on the right-hand side of the road as a welcome to American guests). People associated with The Strand and its surrounds include Dr Johnson and Sir Walter Scott, who both banked at nearby Coutts; the painter William Etty, Samuel Pepys and Peter the Great have all resided in Buckingham St; Evelyn and Tatler founder Steele both lived in Villiers St (though ‘it is now the haunt of anything rather than genius’). Northumberland House, the last of the palaces, had only been demolished in 1874.

In the same way that Tit-Bits was the most popular weekly, the Strand soon became the best-selling monthly, built on the massive popularity of the ‘consulting detective’, Sherlock Holmes. However, as we shall see, Haité’s cover faced challenges in adopting to the times.

The Strand magazine: Haité’s cover evolves

The Strand followed an established publishing strategy in that it was designed to be bound into volumes twice a year. Each issue consisted of an outer wrapper to protect the contents, which consisted of a run of advertising followed by the editorial content and then more advertising. Twice a year, the six issues would be collated by stripping away the wrapper and advertising and binding the editorial into volumes along with titles pages, a frontispiece and index pages that came with the final issue for each volume. That is why the editorial pages are numbered to follow on from each other between issues, reverting back to 1 for the start of each new volume. The publisher would also offer complete bound volumes in various finishes, from cloth to leather, depending on the buyer’s purse. So Haité’s covers would have been thrown away, though the standard Newnes binding showed the illustration on the front of the volume.

The magazine became an institution, and Smith will have been reluctant to tamper with such a successful formula. Readers – particularly regular buyers – are creatures of habit. (As editor of Acorn User, a computer magazine, in the 1980s, I remember receiving letters of complaints when the lettering on the spine was accidentally printed black, rather than the usual red because it ‘ruined’ the look of the magazines on a shelf! And Fleet Street legend has it that woe betide any editor who moves the crossword in a daily paper.)

However, various factors forced changes on the cover design.

Newnes offices at 7-12 Southampton Street from 1896

Newnes offices in Southampton St. The man on the left is looking into the Tit-Bits window

First, Newnes expanded, launching more magazines and so had to move out of the Burleigh St office. The company didn’t go far – just two streets west along the Strand into 7-12 Southampton Street. (By 1925, Newnes expanded again into Tower House next door, where the company stayed until it merged into IPC in the 1960s and moved across the river into King’s Reach.)

So the street name was altered on the Strand cover to match the new address and the number 359 taken off the building wall. In addition, the company’s new name and address was printed along the bottom of the cover. This addition was the start of a slippery slope.

Soon, a cover line was added across the top, promoting another Newnes magazine or the contents of an issue, such as:

  • ‘Now Ready, THE PICTURE MAGAZINE. Companion to THE STRAND MAGAZINE’ (Aug 1893).
  • ‘Xmas Double No. 294 ILLUSTRATIONS. 208 PAGES. 1/-‘ (Dec 1895);
  • Rodney Stone: CONAN DOYLE’S magnificent New Story, Commences in this Number’ (Jan 1896).
  • ‘Pictures on the Human Skin. See Page 428. EASTER EGGS. See Page 373. FLOODS. See Page 441’ (April 1897).

On the Christmas 1896 cover, a cover line was set below the title: ‘The most profusely illustrated magazine in the world’. Christmas issues were dated December and, at one shilling, were double the usual price. Christmas 1897 saw another innovation: advertising appeared on the cover. On the brickwork above the street sign, a small hoarding appeared: ‘Hall’s Wine. See Page XI’ (the advertising pages carried Roman numerals, distinguishing them from editorial).  Another innovation for this issue was that the price and issue details – 208 pages, 323 illustrations – were made more prominent by being carried in a box below the title.

The hoardings carried on, sometimes referring to an advertising page within the issue or sometimes as a standalone. Fry’s Cocoa took this position throughout 1899 until 1925, when it was replaced by Oxo.

In addition to the extra content and illustrations, the cover for the December 1903 Christmas issue was in lavish colour.

George Newnes himself died in 1910, but the company carried on under his name. The Strand cover hoarding of ‘Edited by Geo. Newnes’ continued until 1913 when it was replaced by the issue date and used for information such as subscription prices.

Technology catches up with Haité’s cover in 1914, when motor cars replace the horse-drawn hackney carriages of the Victorian era.

This was also a great time of experimentation in terms of cover promotion. The boxes come in various shapes and sizes and a second colour, spot red, is used to pick out the highlights.

Sherlock Holmes on the Strand’s cover

Strand magazine of September 1914 puts Sherlock Holmes on the cover

Strand magazine of September 1914 puts Holmes on the cover

Even as the boxes had got bigger and the covers become more littered with marketing material, Haité’s illustration was still the dominant image. That changes with the September 1914 issue – which will have appeared in newsagents just after the war broke out – when Sherlock Holmes (who else!) breaks the mould. Not only does the cover line at the top expound the start of a new Conan Doyle serial, ‘The Valley of Fear’, but the detective himself is portrayed musing over a coded letter while he smokes a pipe. Much of the traditional illustration is obliterated by the coloured oval image.

Although Smith published many famous writers and stories in the Strand, Sherlock Holmes held the most pulling power and the editor clearly felt the need to promote the character as much as possible. The relationship between Holmes and the Strand begins with ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ in July 1891, the sixth issue of the magazine. The story was illustrated by the artist Sidney Paget whose images have set the tone for the look of Holmes ever since; he even introduced the deerstalker hat to the character. However, Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in a fight with his nemesis, the criminal mastermind Moriarty, in ‘The Final Problem’ after two years in the magazine. The character did not return until the spectacular ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ in 1901. At Conan Doyle’s insistence, Paget also returned as the illustrator. After that, stories appeared regularly until 1927. In all, there were four novels and 56 short stories over 75 issues.

The Strand in the Great War and 1920s

For the rest of the war, the strategy of ever more prominent boxes continues. The lower hoarding is used to encourage readers to make use of a scheme to support the troops: ‘You can end this magazine Post Free to the troops’; and ‘The best magazine to send to out soldiers and sailors. It goes post free’. The magazine is not free however, and the price rises, first to 7d and then 8d by October 1917. Also at this time, a more striking version of the cover appears with a deep blue sky.

The Strand magazine of May 1922 with a colour cover and a Covent Garden flower seller

The Strand magazine of May 1922 with a Covent Garden flower seller

In 1922, a more colourful illustration is introduced with a prominent flower seller, presumably from the Covent Garden flower market at the top of Southampton Street.

The title design has been altered and the telegraph wires made less prominent. The price of a copy is now one shilling, and sixpence more for Christmas specials, and Smith has added the Jeeves stories of P.G. Wodehouse to the Strand‘s long list of popular features.

For the next six years, the flower seller is the standard cover, with strong promotional boxes. For the heavyweight series, such as Holmes and the Bulldog Drummond stories of ‘Sapper’ (H.C. Mcneill), one-off covers are commissioned, with the flower seller cover shown in an inset box.

October 1930 Strand magazine has a thoroughly modern flapper on the cover

October 1930 Strand magazine has a modern woman on the cover

In 1929, the traditional-looking flower seller is dropped, like the horse-drawn carriages before her, for a more up-to-date image – a thoroughly modern woman. Women dominate the crowds and modern buses dominate the streets. The title design has been simplified again, and the telegraph wires removed. The advertising on the side of the nearest of the buses promotes the Humorist, at the time a weekly humorous magazine in the Newnes stable. Oxo has replaced Fry’s on the advertising hoarding at the top of the 1930 cover shown here.

The boxes at the top and below promote an article by the prominent Conservative politician Lord Birkenhead, and the start of a new novel by P.G. Wodehouse over seven parts. By this time, the US edition has closed and so serialisation of ‘Big Money’ starts at about the same time in the weekly US title Colliers.

The last years of the Strand

This Strand cover design from February 1942 is based on a reworking of the Haité illustration

This Strand cover design from February 1942 is based on a reworking of the Haité illustration

In 1930, two events occurred after which the Strand could never be the same again: on 7 July Conan Doyle died of a heart attack at the age of 71; and at the age of 75, Smith stepped down from the editorship after the December issue. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories underpinned the success of the Strand magazine, but Smith had encouraged him to write more broadly and he developed other characters, including Professor Challenger. Conan Doyle was also prolific with his non-fiction, with articles on spiritualism, fairies and sport, and he wrote extensively about World War I. In total, Smith published almost 300 contributions by Doyle in the Strand, including 120 stories, nine serialised novels, and dozens of poems and interviews. For 36 years, Conan Doyle wrote exclusively for the Strand, forming a partnership with Smith that is unrivalled in the history of magazines.

Yet the age of Sherlock Holmes was now over, and the magazine’s most famous writer was dead. Deprived of Smith’s sure touch, the Strand went into decline, with four editors in the next 20 years:

Jan 1931 to Sep 41: Reeves Shaw
Oct 1941 to May-1942: R.J. Minney
Jun 1942 to Sep 1946: Reginald Pound
Oct 1946 to Mar 1950: MacDonald Hastings.

Wartime paper rationing forced the magazine to adopt a smaller page size in October 1941. Various artists were commissioned to create covers and frontispieces, including Edward Ardizzone, Robin Jacques and Julian Trevelyan. The covers often made reference to the Haité cover design.

The last issue of the Strand, March, 1950 under editor MacDonald Hastings

The last issue, March 1950

Despite the quality of the illustrators used, changes to the Strand‘s traditional format and cover seemed to lose its old character and it failed to develop a new one. Sales were down to about 100,000 copies a month and the company published 54 other magazines: with a weekly circulation of 1.5 million copies, Woman’s Own was now the biggest moneymaker on the news-stands. The Strand ceased publication in March 1950, the title being folded into another Newnes monthly, Men Only.

MacDonald Hastings, a former war correspondent who went on to become a  TV reporter and roving correspondent for the Eagle comic, was its last editor. The US news weekly Time reported Hastings bemoaning the changing times that had brought the magazine down:

Where are the Conan Doyles today, and where are the readers who want them anyway? What people want today is imaginative reporting; the day of fiction has gone.

Such was the hold that the Strand had on the nation’s psyche that its demise was attacked by the Economist in an editorial:

A publishing house is a business enterprise whose projects must be financially sound, but it is also a trustee of the affections of the reading public, in Britain and overseas, and of that public’s standards of taste. It is sad that George Newnes Ltd should have decided that of the three pocket monthly magazines which they publish, they should dispense with the Strand and concentrate on the publication of London Opinion and Men Only.

The Sherlock Holmes Society was founded the following year.

But the writing was on the wall for such general interest men’s magazines as commercial television took away readers and advertising. London Opinion swallowed the Humorist and then Men Only swallowed London Opinion. The only rival left was Lilliput. That closed in 1960 and Men Only turned into a top-shelf magazine.

 First issue of the New Strand in December 1961First issue of the New Strand in December 1961, showing St Mary-le-Strand

First issue of a US version of the Strand in 1999

First issue of a US version of the Strand in 1999. The cover illustrations are based on misty views around the area

A fiction magazine was launched with the title New Strand in 1961 and then another revival, this time in the US, as a quarterly Strand in 1999. But, in the new world of television and the web, neither could hold a candle to the original.

See A History of British Magazine Design from the V&A

See The Victorianist blog for a nice piece on Newnes and the Strand

The Victorian personification of Tit-Bits

May 25, 2016
James Wilson in his prize Tit-Bits costume, probably in the 1890s

James Wilson in his prize Tit-Bits costume, probably in the 1890s

It’s dificult to imagine today what an influence the magazine Tit-Bits was in the late Victorian era. George Newnes launched the weekly in 1881 and its sales soon ballooned and encouraged imitators such as Answers and Pearson’s Weekly. These magazines established the first mass media.

This magazine cutting gives a sense of that influence. It shows James Wilson of Farsley near Leeds, dressed, with his bicycle, as the personification of Tit-Bits. He even has the magazine’s name writtten across his face. His costume, the cutting reports, came to the notice of the magazine, which awarded him a ‘massive silver medal’ for his ‘highly original and ingenious fancy dress’.

Note that prominence is given to two of the magazine’s advertisers – Beecham’s Pills on the handlebars of his bicycle and Old Gold tobacco behind his head, suggesting money might have changed hands for the promotion. The cutting is possibly from the sister magazine to Tit-Bits, the Strand, which was founded in 1891.

‘L’Inconnue’ – a death mask with many a story to tell

October 22, 2015
John Gwynn's poem 'A Death Mask' in the Strand magazine appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris

John Gwynn’s poem ‘A Death Mask’ in the Strand magazine appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris

John Gwynn’s poem ‘A Death Mask’ in the Strand magazine of January 1901 appears to have been inspired by a drowned woman in Paris. But this mask has many other tales to tell.

Although he does not mention Paris in the poem, the story of ‘L’Inconnue‘, ‘the Unknown Woman’ who was picked out of the Seine and whose death mask was a popular exhibit in artists’ homes, undoubtedly  inspired this and many other literary works.

She has been described as the Mona Lisa, Greta Garbo and Brigitte Bardot of her age, a face that launched a thousand ships. However, a more prosaic ‘launch’ can be seen in London’s St John’s Gate, at the Museum of the Order of St John, for, in 1958, the face was used in the prototype ‘Resusci-Annie’ mannequin, made by Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal and crucial to the First Aid training provided by St John Ambulance ever since.

The St John’s Gate building has been used by the order since about 1890, but it is also of interest to literary and magazine history because 30 of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed there. Also, in the 1700s, it was used as a coffee house, run by Richard Hogarth, father of the artist William Hogarth – and then from 1731 by Edward Cave as the printing house for The Gentleman’s Magazine – the first periodical to use the word ‘magazine’ in the printed context. The museum has a volume of the magazine on display. Doctor Johnson wrote for the Gentleman’s Magazine and used it in his definition of ‘magazine’ in his Dictionary. Later still, it became a pub, The Old Jerusalem Tavern, where artists and writers, including Charles Dickens, used to meet.

Apparently, the first story about a UFO to appear in the press was in a 1762 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine and the museum it running workshops in commemoration of the event on October 28 and 29.

A 2013 article by Jeremy Grange on the BBC’s website ‘Resusci Anne and L’Inconnue: The Mona Lisa of the Seine‘ is fascinating for the tales it has to tell – including the many stories of people who claim to know who the woman was. The one he heard at Edward Chambre Hardman’s photographic studio in Liverpool is very poignant. I particularly liked it because I used to clean the windows of doctors’ offices in that very street.

Death mask in porcelain of L'Inconnue de la Seine at the museum of the Order of St John in London's Clerkenwell

Death mask in porcelain of L’Inconnue de la Seine at the museum of the Order of St John in London’s Clerkenwell