Scholarly Value of Magazine Advertising 1901
|Why It's Interesting|
All scholars have learned that when libraries bound 19th century magazines they usually removed their advertising pages. All collectors know that a single issue of such magazines that remains intact usually sells for more than a complete bound volume. The advertising found in old magazines is often more interesting now than are the texts.
I have thousands of old magazines. This week as part of my new interest in movies I began looking through issues from the early 20th century for anything pertaining to moving pictures. This copy of Munsey, for example, has an ad from the Chicago Projecting Co. for a crude movie projector. [Other ads here include the Columbia automobile and the Mitchell motor cycle, which boasted “all the delights of an automobile for $200.”] A theater article in this issue includes a photo of William Farnum, a major movie star of the teens and 20s.
The main points of this posting are two: first, to encourage scholars to acquire some copies of old magazines and survey the ads for something that strikes their fancy; and second, to ask what might we scholars be doing today that might be equivalent to this removal of advertising when binding magazines? The early librarians certainly believed that the texts were of greater historical value than crass, ephemeral advertising. Many of us think they made a mistake. What kinds of things that we sincerely believe or do will the future condemn as equally wrongheaded?
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.