The Daily Heller: Civilization on the Magazine Rack

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Thumbnail for The Daily Heller: Civilization on the Magazine Rack

When New York's The Grolier Club—America’s oldest (1884) society for book lovers and graphic arts aficionados—mounts an exhibition, they do it right. On view in physical space in its elegant ground floor hall, the exhibit will be open to the public from Jan. 20–April 24. For those of us who are mad for print magazines, the exhibition Magazines and the American Experience presents a sweeping chronological history of periodical print media published in the United States—200 rare and vintage magazines devoted to a wide range of subjects, from politics and sports to science and technology.

The collection from which these magazines are assembled is amassed by Dr. Steven Lomazow, a neurologist with a neurological passion for American periodicals. He has been collecting since 1972, and has authored books, blogs and catalogs on the subject. His collection is widely recognized and (to me personally is envied) as the finest magazine collection in private hands. He is both curator and co-author of the over 300 page, eponymous catalog (designed by Jerry Kelly).

In the Colonial era, magazines were the clarions of American thought and identity; the first successful magazine from the 18th century was proudly titled The American Magazine (1744), and the first printed statement of American independence appeared in The Pennsylvania Magazine in June, 1776.

As magazine publication expanded in both number and scope, they fostered the development of distinct communities of Americans by creating extensive networks of communication between people who otherwise would not have been in contact with one another (yes, something like the internet). In studying their development, today we learn the histories of the American farmers and tradesmen; women and children; poets, humorists and artisans; reformers and religious groups of every denomination and ethnicity. Today, periodical publications continue to remain an irreplaceable primary source of information about the American life.

The exhibition is organized in two sections. The first is a chronological history of American culture in magazines from the 18th to the 21st centuries. The second celebrates the broad spectrum of specific genres (among them pop culture, fine arts, politics, pulp fiction, lifestyle), including examples of illustrious American artists and designers (including the young architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Town and Country below), illustrators and cartoonists, and the development of Black American culture (Fire, below) and the struggle for equality, a salute to baseball (what could be more American?), the popularity of radio, television and motion pictures and the promotion of celebrity, among other themes.

The all-encompassing exhibition catalog is an essential source of publishing history and chronicle of this significant American artform. It includes a series of essays on the history of American magazines as well as studies of many specific genres, written by leading experts in their fields. The book is illustrated with over 400 color images of the first issues and highlights of the most important periodicals in American history. Lomazow's earlier publication, The Great American Magazine: Adventures in Magazine History, is also available.