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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Magazines for the People: Humor and Pulp Magazines

While many magazines were serious, informative and inspirational, others were designed to satisfy the American public’s voracious appetite for light fictional reading entertainment. Humorous and satirical publications have been a publishing mainstay since the early 1800s. Dime novels began in 1860 to help satisfy the zeal of readers for adventure and fantasy, Pulp magazines followed in the first half of the twentieth century.

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Salmagundi; or, the Whim-Whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. and Others.

Volumes 1–2, January 1807–May 1808. New York: David Longworth. 

Washington Irving began his literary career writing and editing Salmagundi with his older brother, William, and his friend, James Kirke Paulding. It was the first American magazine of importance devoted entirely to satire. Salmagundi contained a series of letters lampooning the culture and politics of New York City and was the first to nickname the city “Gotham.” The frontispiece illustration is by Alexander Anderson, one of America’s earliest wood-engravers.

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Galaxy of Comicalities.

Volume 1, number 1 - 40, October 2, 1833- July 5, 1834. Philadelphia: Lesher & Shelley.

America’s first illustrated comic magazine, is notable for an illustrated essay in the December 11, 1833, issue, of “Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of East Tennessee.” This is one of very few complete runs in existence.

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American Comic Magazine.

Volume 1, number 1, February 1834. Boston: Freeman Hunt & Co.

A very early illustrated American monthly comic magazine “Illustrated by a great many engravings, Executed by our best Artists and designed by the inimitable CRUIKSHANKS, Robert and George, - the LANDSEERS, Thomas and Edward - and our American [David Claypoole] JOHNSTON.” This issue, unrecorded in original pictorial wrappers, is possibly a unique survival. 

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Vanity Fair.

Volume 1, number 1, December 1859. New York: A. Rankin & Co.

The most influential of the early American humor magazines, Vanity Fair was edited by Charles G. Leland and Artemus Ward, with content dominated by political cartoons, letters in comic vernacular, socio-political commentary, and puns by the leading comic writers and bohemians of New York. Its centrist politics, shaky financial status, and overt antagonism toward Blacks hastened its demise. This Vanity Fair bears no relationship to any other of the magazines of the same title.

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Beadle’s Dime Novels.

Volume 1, number 1, 1860. New York: Irwin P. Beadle. 

Dime novels began in 1860 as a series of tales of the American frontier that sold for ten cents. Circulation skyrocketed during the Civil War as a result of soldiers’ demand for portable and inexpensive reading material. By the early 1870s, the genre expanded to appeal to younger readers. Urban settings replaced open spaces and detective heroes were added to the heroes of the frontier. By 1910, dime novels had largely been replaced by pulps. 

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The Funniest of Awl and the Phunnyest Sort of Phun.

Volume 1, number 1, Spring 1864. [New York]: Great American News Company.

This sporadically issued folio, edited by cartoonist Frank Bellew, contained mostly political humor and illustrations, much devoted to Abraham Lincoln. Even a president gallantly leading a nation though a Civil War could not avoid being the subject of brutal satire. 

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Volume 1, number 1, March 1877. New York: The Puck Publishing Company.

Puck was America’s first successful humor magazine. It featured comic prose and poetry and lithographed full-color political cartoons by one of its founders, Joseph Keppler, and later by many men and women he trained. It introduced America to a higher class of satire that paved the way for magazines like The Masses and The New Yorker that followed.

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The Judge.

Volume 1, number 1, October 29, 1881. New York: The Judge Publishing Co.

Judge was founded by a dissatisfied Puck artist, James Albert Wales, and later revitalized by Republican Party money in response to Puck’s effective attacks on their 1884 presidential candidate James G. Blaine. It is liberally illustrated with political cartoons and evolved into a quarto-sized monthly in a format similar to Life. Its humor, and illustration, and that of its offshoots, was more conservative (and overtly racist) than its competitors. 

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Volume 1, number 1, January 4, 1883. New York: J. A. Mitchell. 

Inspired by and modeled after Harvard Lampoon (founded in 1876), Life specialized in genteel humor and nonpartisan politics. For a time, it became the most influential humor magazine and was a model for The New Yorker. In 1936, it sold its name to Henry Luce for his new magazine of photo-journalism.

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Printed document signed, the original copyright for the use of the title “Life” in a magazine.

Ainsworth Rand Spofford (Librarian of Congress). Washington, D.C., December 30, 1882. 

This unique “origin of Life” fell through the cracks when the original magazine, founded in 1883, ceased publication in November 1936. 

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The Yellow Kid.

Volume 1, number 1, March 1897. New York: Howard Ainslee & Co.

The Yellow Kid, created by Richard F. Outcault, is widely considered to be the first great comic strip character. The Kid was used by both Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst in their New York newspapers as they waged a war for dominance, incidentally coining the phrase “yellow journalism.” Except for the title and cover illustration, this magazine of short stories makes no other reference to the title character.

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The All-Story.

Volume 24, number 2, October 1912. New York: Frank A. Munsey.

An amazing group of characters and authors emerged from the rough pages of the pulps that would live on in radio, film, and television for decades, long after their original magazine appearances were forgotten. All-Story introduced Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan in October 1912 with the first printing of Tarzan of the Apes. The cover illustration is by Clinton Pettee.

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Science and Invention.

Volume 11, number 124, August 1923. New York: H. Gernsback. 

While stories of speculative fiction had been previously published in American magazines, including H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, introduced in Cosmopolitan in 1897, this “scientific fiction number” is considered to be the first science-fiction magazine, in which Hugo Gernsback coined the term. 

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Amazing Stories.

Volume 1, number 1, April 1926. New York: Experimenter Publishing Company. 

Gernsback’s Amazing Stories was the first magazine devoted entirely to science fiction. In November 1928 it released an issue introducing the world to the popular science fiction character Buck Rogers, in a story entitled “Armageddon 2419 A.D” by Philip Nowlan. 

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Black Mask.

Volume 12, number 1, September 1929. New York: Pro-Distributors Publishing Company.

Black Mask was begun by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan in 1920 to raise money to support publication of their literary magazine, Smart Set. After it was sold for a $12,000 profit after six months, Black Mask went on to pioneer hard-boiled detective fiction with stories by Carroll John Daly, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler. This issue introduced Sam Spade in Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. 

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Weird Tales: The Unique Magazine.

Volume 22, number 4, October 1933. Indianapolis, Ind.: Popular Fiction Publishing Company.

Weird Tales filled the void for aficionados of horror and fantasy during the golden age of pulps. This issue features the iconic “Bat Girl” cover by its star artist, Margaret Brundage, who depicted damsels in distress in various states of nudity for all of the covers between June 1933 and August 1936.