It’s been a while since I’ve done a magazine cover post, and last time I was kind of snarky, so I decided to set out in search of the top 10 magazine covers of January and February 1923.
Except that it was really hot outside (I’m in Cape Town), and I wasn’t feeling all that energetic, so I thought maybe ChatGPT could find them for me.
In other words, do your own blog post, I’m too busy writing term papers!
Feeling slightly chastened, I set out on my search.
I started out with a round of disqualifications, beginning with covers that reused illustrations that had originally appeared elsewhere. This led me down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out whether the Jessie Willcox Smith illustration from Little Women that appears on the cover of the February 1923 issue of Good Housekeeping is from the edition of the book that she illustrated. I tentatively decided that it isn’t.
I had an even harder time figuring out the provenance of Smith’s January 1923 cover featuring Hans Brinker. Irritated, I summarily disqualified Smith. I was looking for edgier covers in any case.
Next to go was the February Ladies’ Home Journal cover, which turned out to be a painting by French artist Gabriel Émile Edouard Nicolet, who died in 1921.
Then I eliminated covers that gave me the creeps, regardless of their artistic merit.
Ditto, covers with guns,
especially covers with babies with guns.
Next up are the covers that captured my interest for reasons other than the quality of the art, like this one from Fruit, Garden and Home, which, fascinatingly, turns out to be the original name of Better Homes and Gardens, from its founding in 1922 until August 1924, when sanity prevailed and the magazine was renamed.
And this one from Popular Mechanics, illustrating an article called “Down Popocatepetl on a Straw Mat.” As someone who rode up Popocatepetl (a volcano outside Mexico City) in a car and struggled to walk up a tiny bit of it, I have a great deal of admiration for anyone who accomplished this.*
And this intriguing cover illustrating the article “Stopped by a Pencil” in Personal Efficiency magazine. What the heck is going on here? A metaphor for bureaucracy? An actual giant pencil on the rampage? Sadly, Personal Efficiency is not available online, so I’ll never know.
And now for the Top 10! Ranking them was a challenge, not for the usual “it was so hard to decide, everyone deserved to win” reason but because of the lack of standouts. Most of the covers struck me as deserving to be ranked #5. Here’s what I came up with, after a lot of hemming and hawing.
10. Popular Science, January 1923, artist unknown
I toyed with the idea of relegating this cover to the same category as the giant pencil, but it’s just too cool. I mean, it’s a monster new airship that will carry passengers across the continent! Called the San Francisco Express! Okay, it might be a dubious bit of futurology at a time when transatlantic airplane flights had already taken place,** but still…cool!
9. Shadowland, February 1923, A. M. Hopfmuller.
I can never figure out what exactly is going on in A.M. Hopfmuller’s Shadowland covers, but I’ll miss them when the magazine ceases publication in November 1923.
8. Vanity Fair, February 1923, Anne Harriet Fish
I’m a fan of Fish’s Vanity Fair covers, and this one might have ranked more highly if I could figure what exactly was going on. A woman is looking through store receipts??? and is crying??? or holding another receipt up to her face??? while her husband smokes nonchalantly??? Or something??? Plus, what’s the deal with that chair?
7. Vogue, George Wolfe Plank, February 1, 1923
This cover, of a woman feeding a sugar cube to a dragon, is done with Plank’s usual artistry, but it just didn’t particularly grab me the way some of his other covers did.***
6. Saturday Evening Post, Coles Phillips, February 17, 1923
My love for Coles Phillips knows no bounds, and I’m always happy to see him pop up, but the Saturday Evening Post’s limited color palate doesn’t play to his strengths.
5. McCall’s, January 1923, Neysa McMein
I’m normally more of a fan of Neysa McMein as a fascinating 1920s figure (salon hostess, suffragist, Dorothy Parker’s best friend, etc.) than as an artist, but there’s something that haunts me about this woman. “Who are you?” I keep asking myself. “And what’s wrong?”
4. The Crisis, February 1923, Louis Portlock
I’m not familiar with Louis Portlock and I couldn’t find out anything about him except for one other cover for The Crisis, from 1922. I like the simplicity of this illustration.
3. Harper’s Bazar, January 1923, Erté.
Erté’s never not brilliant, but, as with Plank, I wouldn’t say he was at his best here.****
2. Motor, January 1923, Howard Chandler Christy
I was struck by this Motor cover, although I can’t figure out what’s going on in the lower left corner, where the woman’s dress seems to turn into a wall, or something. I didn’t think I was familiar with Christy, but it turns out that he was the artist behind some of the most famous World War I recruiting posters, like this one:
1. The Liberator, January 1923, Frank Walts
I almost disqualified this Liberator cover because I featured it with other New Year’s covers in last month’s top posts of 1922 post, but that just seemed unfair, especially given the lack of top-quality covers.***** It wasn’t a shoo-in for #1, but I like the simple artistry.
Even though I wasn’t wowed by this batch of covers, I had fun seeing what some of my favorite artists were up to, discovering a few new ones, and pondering the mystery of the giant pencil. In retrospect, I’m glad ChatGPT wasn’t up to the task.
*Although I have more admiration for the Mexican guy steering with the stick than for the the guy holding on for dear life in the back, who I assume is the writer of the article.
**If, like me until recently, you thought Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly across the Atlantic, he was just the first person to do it SOLO. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first transatlantic flight in 1919.
***Like this one
and this one,
****As opposed to here
*****J.C. Leyendecker’s Saturday Evening Post cover was disqualified, though, because it came out on December 30. Besides, it was confusing.
What a confusing winter for the illustration world, LOL. Thanks for the post, it was very whimsical.
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Confusing is a good word for it!
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Just wanted to say I have the Jessie Willcox Smith “Little Women” (1987 edition), and I can confirm that illustration is not in it.
The “Liberator” chicken is my favorite, but I also rather like the “Shadowland” looming snow creature.
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Thanks for the confirmation on Little Women, and for your feedback on the covers. The snow creature cover is definitely well done, if too spooky for my taste.
Delightful as usual. Despite the romantic boys-own-adventure elements of giant airships and sledding in mats down the face of a volcano, or even the monochrome majesty of The Crisis cover, I was strangely drawn to the Fruit, Garden, and Home winter scene. Odd night-thoughts of an alternate universe Emily Dickinson alive in her 90s looking at it, and thinking of her garden at The Homestead.
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Thanks, Frank! I like the Fruit, Garden, and Home cover a lot, too, and I might have included it in the top 10 if I hadn’t gotten distracted by the publication’s title.