covers of efficiency, personality and mentality

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I've discussed my feelings before about the sorry state of American magazine covers (specifically Vogue). Whether today's newsstand staples are matched against the magnificent images created in the heyday of cover art illustration or the dynamism of later photography, they are spiritless pack animals merely conveying cover taglines. So, here again with a selection of the lost art of the magazine cover.

By chance I discovered several sites out there that present selections of vintage magazine covers. The particular site I landed on featured a range of titles—including American Photoengraver, Successful Farming, Everyday Engineering, and the spicy Artist and Model. In other words, not comprehensive but worth some time...

This 1904 issue of Physical Culture ("the magazine of efficiency, personality and mentality") caught my eye with its hand drawn type and ornament. The spare and theatrically retouched photograph of the lady diver (or is she demonstrating good form in a calisthenics position?) seems pretty daring to me. In later years the magazine tackled such topics as "Milk Diet Cures Opium Habit" and "How I Stopped Coughing."

The Electrical Experimenter from 1915 appears presciently "futuristic"–like the sci-fi that would dominate 1930s pulp magazines, rather than the 19th century conception of the future as populated with flying omnibuses. That "interstellar" ship is quite a bit like the Death Star, no?

Gangland Stories strikes me as rather merry. I think it must be the "syncopated" Jazz Age title type.

When I stumbled across Everybody's Magazine, I thought the name was pretty silly. Evidently, though, it had been quite high-profile and important title for investigative journalism in the early 20th century. Features included pieces by Booker T. Washington, Eugene Debs, and Upton Sinclair ("The Condemned Meat Industry" May, 1906). Wow. Early on, the magazine published an article (by progressive writer-journalist Frank Norris) exposing corrupt business dealings in agriculture. Another article soon followed on the treatment of miners. By then Everybody's was established as a Muckraking rag sheet of record–— in line with McClure's and Cosmopolitan. Theodore Roosevelt (who coined the term "muckraking" I think) wrote a pro-war/US involvement article for Everybody's in 1915 (remember, we didnt get involved in WWI until 1917). But alas, Everybody's gave up the good fight in March, 1929.

Everybody's covers: the somewhat off-putting orange "Frenzied Finance" issue from 1905 is interesting to me because it is modeled in clay and then photographed, or at least I think it is, in the manner of claymation images of decades later. At bottom is an amazing and devastating cover
from 1911, despite the fact that the very important title, "The Passing of the Idle Rich," is difficult to read.

I just now noticed that the 4 Everybody's covers shown here have slightly different artwork for each masthead.
Magazines in the first half of the 20th century would often change their masthead/title logo—sometimes with every issue. Vogue was genius with that– the name could be conjured from the smoke from an ingenue's cigarette, or formed from clouds, or it might be lights on a marquee. In this case, Everybody's merely looks like someone can't leave well enough alone...


Michael Leddy said...

Interesting that covers did not need to shout the magazine's varied attractions all at once. The only contemporary "mainstream" magazines I can think of that follow that model are the New Yorker and the late DoubleTake. (Though the newsstand version of the New Yorker has that extra flap with info on what's inside.)

angela said...

Of course there were a number of magazines in the early days that had nothing but the table of contents on the cover! I didnt even bother to look at those.

But even in, say, the 60s many magazines didn't scream their contents on the cover. A few lines that integrated with the image sufficed.

I should have mentioned that the New Yorker gets it right... I actually like the flap-- you can enjoy the cover and get a side order of info.

Phila said...



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