Monday, February 23, 2015

Ninety Years Ago at Your Newsstand

Ninety years ago, the first issue of the New Yorker was at newsstands. It featured Rea Irvin's placidly observant dandy on its cover. This magazine cover is an iconic image today, but in 1925 it must have been an oddity. Why editor Harold Ross thought he could sell his brand new jazz-age magazine by putting a 19th century fop on its cover is anybody's guess. On his Ink Spill blog, Michael Maslin asks this very question and surmises, "I can't help but think that Ross made a very human decision:  art won out over commerce." That's probably as good an answer as we're going to get. Yet the image of Eustace Tilley, as we now call him, is graphically quite powerful. A brief survey of other magazines on the newsstand in February of 1925 shows just how unique the New Yorker already was. Ross, from the very beginning, was determined to succeed against the odds.

Rea Irvin, The New Yorker, February 21, 1925

Cartoons and Movies Magazine wasn't ever a household name, but it sought to capitalize on the hugely-popular silent cinema of the day. The cover gag is rather awkward, but no doubt the woman's see-through dress served to sell the periodical instead. Based on this cover, I would imagine the cartoons inside are awful.
J. E. Dash(?), Cartoons and Movies Magazine, February 1925
Collier's, at only a nickel, was a far less expensive proposition and a popular choice at the newsstand. But the New Yorker at 15 cents could boast a full color cover on glossy stock.
Artist Unknown, Collier's, February 21, 1925

A Japanese print provided a purely decorative cover for House & Garden without giving any hint of a point of view.
Artist Unknown, House & Garden, February 1925

Ross himself had edited Judge in 1924. This issue, which was on newsstands a couple of weeks before the New Yorker's debut, makes a rather atrocious pun. The New Yorker, happily, was not going to add captions to its cover art.
Artist Unknown, "Snowbody Home!" Judge, February 7, 1925
Ralph Barton, the New Yorker's first theatre illustrator, was on the cover of Judge the week of the New Yorker's debut with a theatre illustration. Celebrities include George M. Cohan, W. C. Fields, Fanny Brice, Billie Burke, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Ed Wynn, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolson.
Ralph Barton, "Meet the Editors," Judge, February 21, 1925
Image added April 5, 2015

For your 15 cents, you could purchase either the New Yorker or something called Laughs and Chuckles which sought to find humor in a drunken man sneaking into his home late at night. The drawing on the cover is just awful. 
G. Read, Laughs and Chuckles, February 1925

Ruth Eastman's cover for Liberty shows a young housewife burning dinner. Eastman was an excellent cover artist, but there's not much originality in the handling of this stereotypical subject.
Ruth Eastman, Liberty, February 1925
If I were Harold Ross, I'd be worried about Life. The cover by John Held, Jr., an acquaintance of Ross's from his Salt Lake City days, is a masterpiece. Unlike the New Yorker's cover, it reflects the winter season, the flapper era, and the allure of youthful romance. Ross was later to make extensive use of Held's talents inside the magazine.
John Held, Jr., "Silly Geese," Life, February 19, 1925

Neysa McMein's cover for McCall's is the sort of appealing image that sold many a family magazine. The painting is sweet, but it's basically just a cute dog and a cute girl. Unlike the example of Collier's, the image appears to have no relation to the novel being serialized in the issue.
Neysa McMein, McCall's, February 1925

Then as now, Hollywood was a popular topic at the newsstand.
[Florence Vidor], Photoplay, February 1925

Redbook, like most other magazines, featured blurbs on its cover advertising the content of this issue. The New Yorker's covers would feature artwork exclusively without any hype. The covers were generally unrelated to the editorial content of the issue, at least until the 1990's.
Edna Crompton, The Redbook Magazine, February 1925
In the 1920's many illustrators worked in oils for magazine covers. 
Edna Crompton, Original art, The Redbook Magazine, February 1925

The Saturday Evening Post was a force to be reckoned with. Note how much more spirited this cover is than that of the woman burning dinner for Liberty.
James Calvert Smith, "Women's Ice Hockey,"
The Saturday Evening Post, February 21, 1925

St. Nicholas,
a minor magazine at best, provides a static seasonal cover.
Artist Unknown, St. Nicholas, February 1925

Time Magazine's cover featured a photograph of Owen D. Young. He was the Chairman of General Electric.
[Owen D. Young], Time, February 23, 1925

Note:  See my other blog posts about Rea Irvin and John Held, Jr.


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