Rodin, Young Woman Reading an Illustrated Journal, ca. 1880

You Be the Judge: The 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown

An occupational hazard of reading as if you were living a hundred years ago is that you start turning into a curmudgeon. “Things were so much better in the 1910s,” you (okay: I) grumble on a regular basis, apropos of 1920. Not everything, of course—the 1910s had the war and the Spanish influenza, for starters, and with starters like that there’s no point racking your brain for additional examples. But some things definitely got worse.

The font at The Smart Set, for example. What were H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan thinking?

Headline "Novels, Chiefly Bad," H.L. Mencken, Smart Set, August 1919

Smart Set, August 1919

Headline, "Books More or Less Amusing," H.L. Mencken, Smart Set, August 1920

Smart Set, August 1920

Dorothy Parker was fired from Vanity Fair in January 1920, so good-bye to her theater reviews

Excerpt from Dorothy Parker theater review, Vanity Fair, August 1919

“The First Shows of Summer,” Vanity Fair, August 1919

and hate poems.

From "Our Office: A Hate Poem," Dorothy Parker, Vanity Fair

“Our Office: A Hate Poem,” Vanity Fair, May 1919

And then there are the magazine covers. Every time I’ve thought about doing a magazine cover post in the last few months, I’ve found some dispiriting examples,

Modern Priscilla cover, woman wearing scarf

Good Housekeeping cover, April 1920, girl wearing bonnet

Maclean's magazine, March 15, 1920, womn carrying calla lilies

thought wistfully about the good old days,*

Crisis cover, April 1918, Willian Edouard Scott, black couple on wagon.

William Edouard Scott

Vogue Helen Dryden cover, February 15, 1918, woman looking in mirror.

Helen Dryden

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, May 1918

Erté

and given up.

I wondered sometimes whether I was being fair. Maybe, like so many people, I was longing for a golden age that only existed in my mind. But how to measure such a thing?

And then inspiration struck. The magazines could duke it out, mano a mano, 1920 vs. the 1910s. I chose 1915 as the opponent, a nice round number but not so far back that it’s super-old-timey like this 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal cover:

Ladies' Home Journal, September 15, 1910, woman in big hat.

As I assembled the covers, it dawned on me that maybe I still wasn’t being fair. What was to stop me from picking all the 1915 covers to prove a point? I pondered this for a while, and then the answer came to me: the people!

Normally, I’m very limited as to what I can do on this blog because I’m a wordpress.com member, meaning that WordPress hosts my blog as well as being the platform for designing it, as opposed to the far cooler wordpress.org members, whose blogs are hosted by other companies so they can get all sorts of plug-ins that don’t run on wordpress.com.** But one thing that wordpress.com lets you do now is run polls. And what’s more fun than a poll?***

So I leave it to you, the people, to decide, for each of the 16 magazines below, whether its September 1915 cover (top) or its September 1920 cover (bottom) is better. (In several cases, as it turns out, artists are competing against themselves.) The polls will stay open for a week, and the winners will be announced in early October. If the covers I’m rooting for don’t win, I promise to accept your verdict graciously. Because that’s what democracy is all about!

And, in case you find your energy flagging, there’s a prize at the end.

1. Vogue

Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915

Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920

 

2. Harper’s Bazar

Erte Harper's Bazar cover, September 1915, three women

Erté

Erté Harper's Bazar cover, September 1920

Erté

 

3. Ladies’ Home Journal

Lester Ralph

Walter Biggs

 

4. Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair cover, September 1915, Rita Senger, woman with sleeping Pierrot.

Rita Senger

Warren David Vanity Fair cover, September 1920, naked women dancing.

Warren Davis

 

5. The Crisis

The Crisis, September 1915, The Colonel of the 8th Regiment.

The Crisis, September 1920, photo of bust by C. Matey.

Sculpture by C. Matey

 

6. St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas cover, Norman Price, September 1915, motorcycle jump.

Norman Price

St. Nicholas cover, September 1915, Charles Livingston Bull, children sailing.

Charles Livingston Bull

 

7. Cosmopolitan

Cosmpolitan cover, September 1915, Harrison Fisher, young woman sipping milkshake in red hat.

Harrison Fisher

Cosmopolitan cover, September 1920, Harrison Fisher, woman having tea with dog.

Harrison Fisher

 

8. Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping cover, September 1920, Coles Phillips fadeaway girl.

Coles Phillips

Good Housekeeping cover, Jesse Wilcox Smith, September 1920, little girls hugging in doorway.

Jessie Willcox Smith

 

9. The Masses/The Liberator****

The Masses cover, September 1920, Cornelia Barnes, children dancing near organ grinder.

Cornelia Barnes

The Liberator, September 1920, Hugo Gellert, boy on flying horse.

Hugo Gellert

 

10. The Smart Set

Smart Set cover, September 1915, John Held Jr., man in polo clothes with woman.

John Held Jr.

Smart Set cover, September 1920, man talking to woman on boat.

Archie Gunn*****

 

11. Photoplay

Photoplay cover, September 1915, Mary Pickford, Anita Stewart cover design.

Photoplay cover, September 1920, Rolf Armstrong, Constance Talmadge.

Rolf Armstrong

 

12. La Vie Parisienne

La Vie Parisienne cover, September 25, 1915, woman shooting arrow.

La Vie Parisienne, September 18, 1920, woman playing golf with caddy.

 

13. Life

Life cover, September 8, 1915, Emery, women with long-feathered hats.

Emery

Life cover, September 23, 1920, Rea Irvin, woman on throne.

Rea Irvin

 

14. Saturday Evening Post

Saturday Evening Post cover, September 18, 1915, Charles Livingston Bull, owl in front of orange sun.

Charles Livingston Bull

Saturday Evening post cover, September 25, 1920, Alfred E. Orr, man painting name on mailbox.

Alfred E. Orr

 

15. Metropolitan

Metropolitan cover, September 1915, young woman in straw hat.

Metropolitan cover, September 1920, Edna Crompton, woman serving at tennis.

Edna Crompton

 

16. The Best of the Rest

There were two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that were too good to leave out, so I’ll let them face off.

Golfers magazine, September 1920, man swinging golf club while woman watches.

Red Cross cover, September 1920, Gerrit Beneker, worker in front of skyline.

Gerrit Beneker

 

That’s it, the hard work of voting is over. Now for the prize!

Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat, by Deborah Kalb

My friend and fellow blogger Deborah Kalb’s book Thomas Jefferson and the Return of the Magic Hat is being published this week. It’s the third in a series of books about the adventures of a group of fifth-grade friends who travel back in time and meet America’s founding presidents. The first three readers who let me know which magazine cover was their favorite will receive a free copy. You can post a comment below or drop me a line through the Contact page.******

I’ve read the book and highly recommend it—it’s a lot of fun but at the same time it engages seriously with the issue of slavery. As the U.S. prepares to choose its next president, the timing couldn’t be better. So hurry up and vote!

squiggle

*I know, apples and oranges. But I’m describing a mental state, so bear with me.

**Like PUTTING PHOTOS SIDE BY SIDE, FOR EXAMPLE, WORDPRESS!

***Besides a quiz, I mean.

****The Masses, a socialist monthly, ceased publication in 1917 after editor Max Eastman and several staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. Eastman and his sister Chrystal Eastman founded The Liberator in 1918.

*****Which I am very proud to tell you I deciphered from this:

Illegibile signature, Smart Set cover, September 1920.

******For readers living outside the United States, I’ll do my best to get a copy to you, but I can’t make any promises.

4 thoughts on “You Be the Judge: The 1915/1920 Magazine Cover Smackdown

  1. Tamar Jeffers McDonald

    Hi there! I loved all the covers but generally am more of a 1920 gal than 1915. I did note, however, that the Photoplay from 1915 is not by Anita Stewart, but of her. The signature of the artist is on the cover and not distinguishable, by me at any rate. I hope you have better luck. Thanks again for such a stimulating blog.
    All best wishes, Tamar

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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