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.
People sometimes complain that the world of a hundred years ago is so picked over that there’s nothing left to write about.* After spending a year reading as if I were living in that period, though, I can tell you that there’s a treasure trove of subjects just waiting to be turned into books, articles, dissertations, or academic projects. Here are ten topics that I’m mystified that no one has gotten to yet.**
1. Archiving Erté’s Harper’s Bazar covers
Over the (yikes!) almost four years of this project, I have spent many happy hours finding online copies of Harper’s Bazar covers by Erté, the legendary art deco artist, designer, and crossword puzzle clue stalwart who worked as the magazine’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I included him in my Thanksgiving lists of 10 1918 People I’m Thankful For and Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For.***
But I have also spent many unhappy hours searching for Erté covers in vain. HathiTrust, the Google Books online archive, is missing some issues from 1918 and doesn’t have any at all for 1919 (or from 1923 to 1929, but I’ll worry about that in the future). I’ve found images for some, but not all, of these covers elsewhere, often on Pinterest, which is the source of most of my magazine cover images anyway. Those images that do exist aren’t at the level of quality that these important cultural artifacts deserve.
Someone needs to make high-quality digital scans of the full collection and archive them online**** before the original covers deteriorate any further. (Maybe Harper’s Bazaar—the extra A was added in 1930—has done this, but, if so, the archive isn’t available online, as Vogue’s is.) A book or scholarly article about the covers would be good, too. Get on this, digital humanities people!
2. A biography of cartoonist Percy Crosby
One of the most intriguing people I’ve written about for this blog is Percy Crosby, who penned the cartoon The Rookie from the 13th Squad. The hapless but ultimately stouthearted Rookie was the Sad Sack of World War I. Crosby, who received a Purple Heart after being hit in the eye with shrapnel, went on to create the popular cartoon Skippy, which the Charles Schulz website cites as an influence for Peanuts. He also, I kid you not, won the silver medal in the 1932 watercolors and drawing event in the 1932 Olympics.
Crosby’s personal life was troubled, though. He ran with a hard-drinking crowd that included Jerome Kern, Ring Lardner, John Barrymore, and Heywood Broun. Following a violent episode, his wife divorced him and got a restraining order, and he never saw her or their four children again. He began taking out two-page ads in major newspapers, espousing left-wing views and taking on targets like the FBI, the IRS, and Al Capone. After a 1948 suicide attempt, he was confined to a mental hospital and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. One of the purported symptoms of his paranoia was his endless ranting about how Skippy Peanut Butter had violated the trademark on his character’s name. Now, I’m no intellectual property rights lawyer, but that doesn’t sound all that paranoid to me. Crosby himself believed that his left-wing views contributed to his prolonged confinement. He died in the mental hospital in 1964.
A biography of Crosby was published in 1978, but his life, and his long confinement, deserve a closer look.
3. Girl Scout badges through the ages
What gives you a better sense of what was expected of girls in a given era than its Girl Scout badges? Well, lots of things, probably, given that the 1920 edition of Scouting for Girls included badges for telegraphy (“send 22 words per minute using a sounder and American Morse Code”), bee keeping (“have a practical knowledge of bee keeping and assist in hiving a swarm…”), and rock tapping (“collect two or three scratched or glaciated pebbles or cobblestones in the drift”). But, as I discovered during my quest to earn a 1919 Girl Scout badge,***** Girl Scout badges do provide an interesting window into the era. I learned all about caring for sick relatives and found out what a cruel practice plucking egret feathers for women’s hats is.
My own Girl Scout book was written closer to 1920 than to today (it had been around a while, but still!). There are some cool badges in that book, like Observer, where you learn about constellations and rock formations and make a conservation exhibit. Others, like Indian Lore and Gypsy, wouldn’t pass muster today.
The current badges look kind of trippy and feature topics like cybersecurity, coding, entrepreneurship, and preparing for STEM jobs. That all sounds way too stressful and careerist for me. Personally, I’d rather learn telegraphy.
Well, I’d better stop before I end up writing the book myself.
4. Did Daisy Ashford really write The Young Visiters?
The Young Visiters, nine-year-old Daisy Ashford’s unintentionally hilarious account of sometimes unsavory high-society goings-on, became a runaway bestseller following its 1919 publication. The manuscript, written in 1890 or so, was discovered by the adult Daisy and circulated among her friends until it reached novelist and publisher’s reader Frank Swinnerton, who arranged for its publication, with an introduction by L. Frank Baum.
Or so the story goes. Some reviewers at the time were skeptical, and there was speculation that Baum himself was the author. When Ashford died in 1972 at the age of 90, her obituary in the New York Times mentioned the doubts about her authorship.
Here is the opening paragraph. You decide for yourself whether you buy it as the work of a preteen or if, like me, you’re with the skeptics.
Except you don’t have to leave it at that! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can figure out the authorship for yourself. In recent years, researchers have used computer software that analyzes similarities between texts to discover new sources for Shakespeare’s plays and help unmask J.K. Rowling as the author of the mystery novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. I wonder what a comparison between The Young Visiters and the works of L. Frank Baum (or maybe Frank Swinnerton) would reveal. Go for it!******
5. The Crisis Press, The Brownies’ Book, and Jessie Redmon Fauset
The life and work of W.E.B. Du Bois is not exactly lost to history. To cite only one recent example of his place in the culture, the novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois was an Oprah book club pick and was long-listed for this year’s National Book Award. The Crisis, the NAACP magazine that he edited, is rightly celebrated as a groundbreaking publication for and about African-Americans. Less well-known are the side projects of the magazine’s publishing company, including books like Hazel, by Ruth White Ovington, the first children’s book to figure an African-American protagonist, and The Brownies’ Book, an all-too-short-lived magazine “designed for all children, but especially for ours.” Recent high school graduate Langston Hughes published his first poems in the magazine. There have been a number of academic articles about The Brownies’ Book, as well as a 1996 anthology, but the magazine and the Crisis Publication Company’s other ventures deserve to be better known today.
While you’re at it, how about a biography of The Brownies’ Book managing editor Jessie Redmon Fauset, who was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance?
6. Women Illustrators of the 1920s
Career opportunities for talented women in the 1920s were limited, but magazine illustration was one field where women could, and did, succeed. Their work and their lives are worth revisiting.
Why did Helen Dryden, once the highest-paid woman artist in the United States, end up living in a welfare hotel?
How did Gordon Conway make it to the top of her profession without taking a single art class?
Why did talented illustrator Rita Senger disappear from the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair in 1919? (Well, I told you all about that here.)
As for Neysa McMein, suffragist, Saturday Evening Post illustrator, best friend of Dorothy Parker, lover of Charlie Chaplin, Ring Lardner, Robert Benchley, and others, I just want to spend a winter afternoon reading a gossipy account of her life.
In May 2018, I read a May 1918 New York Times article about the apparent death of popular aviator Jimmy Hall, who had been shot down behind enemy lines. I decided to Google him to see if by any chance he had survived. But James Hall is a common name, and I kept getting articles about the co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty. Eventually I realized that the courageous aviator and the successful writer were…one and the same!
Hall, it turned out, had been captured by the Germans. After the war, he moved to Tahiti, where he and co-author Charles Nordhoff penned Mutiny on the Bounty and other best-sellers.******* His wife was partly of Polynesian descent. Their son, cinematographer Conrad Hall, won three Oscars, including one for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Amazingly, no one seems to have written a biography of this fascinating man. If I haven’t done enough to persuade you to take on this project, it would definitely require a trip to Tahiti, where his modest house is now a museum.
8. Edna Ferber biography and revival
Edna Ferber checks a number of boxes to spark contemporary interest: she took on racism and sexism in her novels and short stories, and she may have been a lesbian. On top of that, she was a wonderful writer, at least judging from the early novel and short stories that I’ve read, featuring the dreams, disappointments, and, very occasionally, triumphs of department store saleswomen and accountants and stenographers. Ferber was a regular at the Algonquin Round Table, which would make for entertaining research.********
Harper Perennial Classics has reissued some of Ferber’s novels, which is a good start, but she’s due the kind of revival that Tim Page sparked for novelist Dawn Powell a few decades back when he published her diaries, her letters, and a biography. Any volunteers?
9. The Illustrators of New Rochelle, New York
High on the list of nonexistent books I’m longing to read is a group biography of Norman Rockwell, Coles Phillips, the Leyendecker brothers, and the other illustrators who turned suburban New Rochelle, New York, into one of the country’s most important artists’ colonies. If you can believe Wikipedia, New Rochelle was the source of more than half of the illustrations in major publications in the early 1920s.
I want SO much to read about J.C. Leyendecker’s romantic relationship with the model for his Arrow shirt ads
and about his brother Frank’s short life and tragic death.
I want to read about Coles Phillips’ apparently happy marriage (one of all too few I’ve read about in the period) to his wife Teresa, who served as his primary model, “making up in keen interest and endurance what I lacked in pulchritude,” as she wrote in the Saturday Evening Post after his death in 1927 at the age of 46.
I want to read about Normal Rockwell’s…well, I can’t think of anything I want to read about Norman Rockwell. But, if you write it, I’ll read it!
10. This one’s for me!
By now, you may be wondering why I’m asking the rest of the world to do all of these projects and not saving any for myself. Well, don’t worry—I’ve set aside a project, or two, or three. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to finish, or, um, start them, but I look forward to telling you more when I can.
In the meantime, get to work, everyone!
*Actually, this is mostly an amateur opinion. The academics I know who are working on this period have more than enough to keep them busy.
**That I know if. If I’m wrong, please let me know!
***I’ve noticed recently that some of my old posts have gone all Alice in Wonderland on me, with small photos suddenly huge, like this squiggle from the Thanksgiving 2019 post.
I’ll get with WordPress to see what this is about and in the meantime am resizing the giant photos as I come across them.
****Or at least the covers (currently up to 1925) that are out of copyright.
*****Actually, a 1916 Girl Scout badge. My logic in using 1919 in the title was that this was the Girl Scout book being used 100 years ago at the time of the post. If I had known that this would go on to be by far my most popular post, read by many people who didn’t have a clue about my 100 years ago project, I would have used the 1916 in the blog post title.
******Go for it yourself, you might reasonably say. I tried once, with some different texts, and it’s kind of hard.
*******Speaking of fake child authors, Hall confessed in 1946 that he had written the critically acclaimed 1940 poetry collection Oh Millersville!, supposedly the work of a 10-year-old girl named Fern Gravel.
********That’s Ferber on the bottom right corner, looking like she’s wearing a skeleton mask, in the Al Hirschfeld cartoon of Algonquin Round Table members. I can’t post it here because it’s still under copyright.
The people have spoken! And the people, it turns out, like athletic, adventurous women and hate scantily clad women.
Let’s back up a minute. In case you haven’t been following along, in my last blog post I asked the people to vote on whether 14 magazines (and two mismatched pairs) had better covers in 1915 or 1920. This was in the context of me being a 1920 crank going on about how things were better in the 1910s. But enough with the explanation…you can check it out yourself.
On to the winners:
Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915
Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920
This is the first of several matchups where an artist faces off against him/herself. Dryden is a favorite of mine, previously featured in my posts on Ten 1919 Illustrators I’m Thankful For and Five Inspiring Women of 1919. The winner, which also got my vote, is Dryden’s colorful 1915 cover, which bested her uncharacteristically subdued 1920 cover with 58% of the vote.
2. Harper’s Bazar
Erté, September 1915
Erté, September 1920
Another self-matchup, Erté vs. Erté.* This was inevitable, because Erté, who was one of the Ten 1918 People I’m Thankful For, was Harper’s Bazar’s regular cover artist from 1915 to 1936. I’m thankful that I have a decade and a half of his illustrations to look forward to, but his October 1920 cover wasn’t one of my favorites. Readers agreed, with the 1915 cover winning 59% of the vote.
3. Ladies’ Home Journal
Lester Ralph, September 1915
Walter Biggs, September 1920
This boring vs. weird matchup featured Leslie Ralph’s woman sitting on what looks like a German naval mine vs. Walter Biggs’ popular parasol-carrying woman. I was of two minds here but ended up going for the 1920 cover because at least no one was about to blow up. Readers are made of sterner stuff than I am, though, and the 1915 cover won 71% of the vote.
4. Vanity Fair
Rita Senger, September 1915
Warren Davis, September 1920
Rita Senger’s 1915 Vanity Fair cover is my favorite of the bunch, winning my enthusiastic vote against Warren Davis’ frolicking naked women. I admired the first Warren Davis cover I saw, way back toward the beginning of this blog, but I soured on him when I learned that drawing naked women was the only thing he ever did. Readers shared my taste, giving Senger a lopsided 91% victory.
5. The Crisis
Sculpture by C. Matey, September 1915
Unknown artist, September 1920
I was disappointed that both of these covers featured photographs, as opposed to, say, a Frank Walts drawing or a William Edouard Scott painting. I voted, with mixed feelings, for the 1920 cover featuring a sculpture by the mysterious (or, at least, not easily Googleable) C. Matey, which led the polls with 57% of the vote.
6. St. Nicholas
Charles Livingston Bull, September 1920
Norman Price, September 1915
If I could jump into one of these covers, Mary Poppins-style, I’d definitely opt for sailing over watching dangerous motorcycle escapades (both of which apparently require a necktie). But as a cover I went for the eye-popping red and the action of the 1915 cover. I was in a minority here; 55% chose sailing.
Harrison Fisher, September 1915
Harrison Fisher, September 1920
A Harrison Fisher vs. Harrison Fisher faceoff, with similar young-woman-drinking-something themes. The one with the dog (title: “You Beauty!”) struck me as a bit unsanitary, so (putting aside my resentment over just happening upon it after spending an hour searching for images of women drinking through straws for my Are You H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan’s Ideal Woman? quiz) I went with the 1915 cover. 62% of readers agreed.
As I noted in my previous post, The Liberator arose in the ashes of The Masses, which closed after staff members were charged with conspiring to obstruct conscription. I’m a fan of Cornelia Barns, who drew a proto-New Yorker cartoon I loved, and an even bigger fan of Hugo Gellert and his wonderful covers for The Liberator (including its inaugural issue). This isn’t my favorite Gellert, though, and I ended up voting for Barnes. 57% of voters agreed.
10. The Smart Set
John Held Jr., September 1915
Archie Gunn, September 1920
The Smart Set is one of the few magazines where what’s inside is consistently better than what’s on the cover. I did like John Held Jr.’s cheery 1915 polo cover; less so the people in the boat who you just know are racist. A lopsided 86% of readers agreed.
Unknown illustrator, September 1915
Rolf Armstrong, September 1920
Movie star vs. movie star. I could have gone for either one of these, and in choosing the 1920 cover I was perhaps slightly biased by my fondness for Rolf Armstrong, although this isn’t one of my favorites.**** I was in the minority here, with 55% of readers choosing the 1915 cover by an unknown illustrator. (I originally credited the 1915 illustration to Anita Stewart, who, an alert reader pointed out, is actually the subject. Kicking myself!)
12. La Vie Parisienne
Unknown artist, September 25, 1915
Unknown artist, September 18, 1920
I lucked out in having two La Vie Parisienne covers that are suitable for a family blog. I prefer the clear lines of the 1915 archer, and so did a whopping 90% of readers.
Emery, September 8, 1915
Rea Irvin, September 23, 1920
I’m a big fan of future New Yorker illustrator Rea Irvin, but not so much of his 1920 Life cover (although it bears closer scrutiny since the picture seems to be embroidered). I have no idea who Emery is, but his or her whimsical take on hat fashions is a lot of fun. 76% of readers agreed.
14. Saturday Evening Post
Charles Livingston Bull, September 18, 1915
Alfred E. Orr, September 25, 1920
I had second thoughts about some of my choices, none more than this one. I voted for Alfred E. Orr’s man painting a mailbox when clearly the correct choice is Charles Livingston Bull’s owl. A consequential choice, since there was a dead heat here.
Edna Crompton, September 1920
Unknown artist, September 1915
Despite my 1910s leanings, I’m not blind to the ways that the 1920s are better, including more women being portrayed as being physically active as opposed to standing around with their clothes falling off. 90% of readers agreed.
16. The Best of the Rest
Gerrit Beneker, September 1920
Unknown artist, September 1915
For the last matchup, I paired up two covers that didn’t have a counterpart in the other year but that I couldn’t bear to leave out. My favorite, and that of 75% of readers, was Gerrit Beneker’s 1920 builder on the cover of Red Cross (the magazine’s second to last issue).
And the winning cover is…
Rita Senger, September 1915
I’m new at this polling business, and if I had it to do again (which I no doubt will, given how much fun it was this time) I would allow everyone to vote for their favorite cover of all. As it is, I’ll have to go with the cover that had the highest vote percentage. This isn’t really fair because it may just reflect the weakness of the competition, but so be it.
All caveats aside, I’m delighted to announce that the winner is Rita Senger’s wonderful Vanity Fair cover, which, as noted, is also my favorite. It edged out the 1915 La Vie Parisienne cover by a few tenths of a percentage point. Next time I write about illustrators I love, I’m going to write about Senger.
And the winning year is…
1915 was the overwhelming winner, beating out 1920 in twelve of the matchups, with three victories for 1920 and one tie. Interestingly, given that it was my grousing about the decline of magazine illustration that spurred the contest, I voted for 1920 six times, twice as often as the average reader.
So it’s been officially, objectively proven: the 1910s rule!
And the winning reader is…
…Allison Silberberg, who has received a free copy of Deborah Kalb’s wonderful middle-grade novel George Washington and the Return of the Magic Hat. Allison’s favorite cover is the Red Cross “The Builder” cover, which makes a lot of sense given the former Alexandria, Virginia, mayor’s commitment to building communities. You can find Allison on Facebook here and on Twitter here.
And the winning new (to me) blogging technology is…
Readership during the week the Magazine Cover Smackdown was published shattered previous records, even when taking into account some iffy botlike behavior on the day before publication. So clearly readers like polls! Judging from the low number of votes as a percentage of views, though, readers are not as fond of voting in polls as they are of reading them.
That’s fine! It’s just a blog poll! It’s not like the future of America is at stake!
Which is not something that can be said for the other election that’s going on right now. So, as we celebrate the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage,***** make sure to
League of Women Voters poster, 1920
*Estimated amount of time that I have spent over the course of this blog putting the accent mark in Erté’s name (or, rather, pseudonym): two hours.
***Not that I’m judging you 17 percenters. In fairness to Smith, this is a beautifully illustrated cover—I love the green doors and the shadows.
****That’s Armstrong’s Metropolitan cover on the blog banner, unless you’re reading this in the future when I have updated the banner, in which case here’s the old one, featuring 1919 covers. It was a thing of beauty (future me says), and I miss it so much!
*****Of course, it would take decades more of struggle before African-American men and women’s right to vote was fully honored throughout the country.
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 First Shows of Summer,” Vanity Fair, August 1919
and hate poems.
“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,
thought wistfully about the good old days,*
William Edouard Scott
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:
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.
Helen Dryden, September 15, 1915
Helen Dryden, September 1, 1920
2. Harper’s Bazar
3. Ladies’ Home Journal
4. Vanity Fair
5. The Crisis
Sculpture by C. Matey
6. St. Nicholas
Charles Livingston Bull
8. Good Housekeeping
Jessie Willcox Smith
9. The Masses/The Liberator****
10. The Smart Set
John Held Jr.
12. La Vie Parisienne
14. Saturday Evening Post
Charles Livingston Bull
Alfred E. Orr
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.
That’s it, the hard work of voting is over. Now for the prize!
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!
*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!
****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:
******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.
When I picked up my mail after arriving in D.C. from Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, I found to my surprise that I have been a New Yorker subscriber since September. My first reaction: “Oh, look, a giant pile of guilt!” Then I saw the brightly colored covers, and I wanted to gather them all in a slippery embrace, like fellow survivors from a lost world. Few things from 100 years ago bring me as much joy as magazine covers, and few things (well, few non-news-related things) are as dispiriting as a 2020 magazine rack.
I had a post on February 1920 covers almost ready before I left Cape Town, but what with all the electricity cuts I didn’t manage to post it. So I’m covering both February and March here.
The February magazines feature lots of women engaging in wholesome outdoor activities like skiing,
and pathetic ice skating.
And also engaging in unwholesome outdoor activities like this:
The artist for this surprisingly risqué cover is Warren Davis. He also drew this February 1918 Vanity Fair cover,
which I took note of back in February 2018. That one was also daring, but it struck me as having that Greek mythology vibe that lets you get away with anything. It turns out, though, that young women cavorting around outdoors naked, or at most with a diaphanous scarf, comprise pretty much Warren Davis’ entire oeuvre.*
Some favorite artists are back: Frank Walts at The Crisis,
and at Smart Set, which I’m pleased to see breaking out of its face-of-young-attractive-woman rut.
There are people in traditional dress at Sunset
and World Outlook.
I loved these covers from House & Garden
Charles Livingston Bull
and Popular Mechanics
and Elite Styles.
As I prepared for my trip, I was all psyched up to leave the southern hemisphere summer for some outdoor winter fun. Of course, what I actually ended up doing was lugging groceries home in the rain. So good riddance to February…
…and onward to blustery March!
They’re getting in some late-season ice skating at Red Cross**
and some early-season boating at Motor Boating.
Am I reading this wrong or is this elephant being used as an accessory to kill other elephants?*** And don’t get me started on the African man in the loincloth.
Everybody’s is late to the Valentine’s Day party.
Vogue has a cover by regular George Wolfe Plank
George Wolfe Plank
and one by 26-year-old newcomer Harriet Meserole, who would go on to be a Vogue stalwart.****
Bright spring colors abound at Harper’s Bazar
and The Delineator
and The Green Book
and House & Garden
and Vanity Fair, which features a cover by Anne Harriet Fish, an artist whom I wasn’t familiar with but who will now join Gordon Conway and John Held Jr. in the ranks of VF artists whose work I can’t tell apart.
Anne Harriet Fish
Future New Yorker cartoonist Rea Irvin was the artist for this striking, though problematic to modern sensibilities, Life cover.
This woman on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post seems to be about to ditzily cast her first vote for the supposedly more handsome candidate, which I would take offense at, except, um, Warren Harding.*****
The woodcut on the cover of Liberator is by J.J. Lankes, who was a friend of, and illustrator for, Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson.
This Photoplay cover isn’t particularly notable except that “If Christ Went to the Movies” is the best cover headline ever.******
And it wouldn’t be March without a lion and a lamb, courtesy of Carton Moore-Park:*******
Counting the days until spring!
*Google him if you don’t want to take my word for it. Just don’t do it at the office.
**According to the go-to site for Norman Rockwell cover information, this was Rockwell’s fourth and last cover for Red Cross, which folded in late 1920. Rockwell turned to smaller magazines when large-circulation magazines passed on his illustrations.
***I always thought you couldn’t ride African, as opposed to Asian, elephants. Apparently you can, although, according to animal rights advocates, you shouldn’t.
****As far as I can tell, this is Meserole’s first Vogue cover other than this February 1919 one, which is mostly white space:
*****Also, the cover artist, Neysa McMein, was a woman and an ardent supporter of gender equality. Here she is marching in a suffragist parade in 1917.
I’ve been in summer school at the University of Cape Town for the last three weeks, studying, among other things, Portuguese.* Between that, obsessing over the recently released archive of T.S. Eliot’s letters to his longtime love Emily Hale, and a pair of maritime mishaps that have been wreaking havoc on South Africa’s internet, I haven’t been able to get much blogging done. But it doesn’t seem right to let the first month of a new decade pass unrecognized, so I figured I’d look into how magazine covers ushered in the 1920s.**
The Saturday Evening Post rang in the new year with this J.C. Leyendecker cover. (The camel is a symbol of Prohibition.)
Sotheby’s website features this painting by Leyendecker, which may have been his original concept for the cover.
I can see why the Saturday Evening Post wouldn’t go for it, but this version makes more sense because without the bottle of whiskey what is the baby shushing us about?
That’s about it for New Year’s-themed covers.
Erté, as always, is at the helm at Harper’s Bazar, with this cover,
which, unusually, has some text on the illustration: “Begin Arnold Bennett’s New Essays on Women in this Issue.” I skimmed the essay, which was in equal parts irritating, boring, and off-topic.***
Vogue starts out the decade with a Georges Lepape cover featuring a person of color, but not in a good way:
This Vanity Fair cover is too good not to repeat. I’m not sure who the artist is, but I’m guessing John Held Jr. or possibly Gordon Conway. (Update 2/4/2019: It’s John Held Jr. I found the signature on a scanned copy of the magazine on Hathitrust.)
and a picture of movie star Norma Talmadge by Rolf Armstrong on Photoplay.****
The Crisis features a photograph of a woman from St. Lucia,
and Liberator has, um, something Bolshiviki by Lydia Gibson.
Life’s “Profiteers’ Number” features a cover by John Madison.
In sunny South Africa, I sighed over the snowy scenes on the covers of Literary Digest (by Norman Rockwell)
and Red Cross Magazine
and Country Life
and La Vie Parisienne.*****
If I could pick one snow scene to transport myself into, Mary Poppins-style, it would be this one, from St. Nicholas.
And, finally, two new****** publications that are well worth looking at: Shadowland, a beautifully designed movie magazine that features A.M. Hopfmuller as its regular cover artist,
and The Brownies’ Book, the first-ever magazine for African-American children, edited by, who else, W.E.B. Du Bois.
I’ll be following both of these exciting ventures in the months to come.
In the meantime, happy January, everyone. Or, as we say in Portuguese, feliz janeiro!
*The other things: Dante’s Purgatorio, special relativity, Rembrandt, Plato and Euclid, Vermeer, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press, religious poetry, South African history and politics, and the Enlightenment. I tend to shop for summer school tickets like a hungry person at the supermarket.
**It turns out that when you put 1920 in Google it thinks you’re talking about the whole decade, so I keep having to sift through irrelevant pictures of flappers. It’s going to be an annoying year.
***But don’t worry, Virginia Woolf will, with her brilliant 1924 essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (published by the aforementioned Hogarth Press), make Arnold Bennet regret that he’d ever SEEN a woman.
Since January 1, I’ve been making the transition, slowly, from the world of 1918 to the world of 2019. People keep asking me what’s going to happen with the blog. I originally envisioned it as strictly a one-year project, but I’m planning to continue into 1919. It won’t be exactly the same, since I won’t ONLY be reading from a hundred years ago. (Doing that for a year is a project. Doing it indefinitely is an eccentricity.) And I won’t be posting as often, since there’s the whole having a life business to attend to.
To keep the spirit alive while I regroup, I’ve been posting some of my favorite images from 1918 on Twitter. Here’s the first week’s worth.
The best art often came in unlikely places, like this ad for Nujol constipation medicine in the January 1918 issue of Woman’s Home Companion.
Woman’s Home Companion, January 1918
One of the highlights of my year of reading as if I were living in 1918 was Erté’s Harper’s Bazar (sic) covers. If I had to pick a favorite, it might be this one from May, titled “Fireflies.”
Longing for a snow day in sunny Cape Town, I found this January 1918 Vanity Fair cover by Gordon Conway, a 23-year-old WOMAN artist.
Continuing with the snow theme, here’s a drawing by Johnny Gruelle (creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy) from Judge, the popular humor magazine.
My dream 1918 bedroom, from an ad for Bozart Rugs.
Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1918
The inaugural cover of The Liberator, March 1918. The magazine succeeded The Masses, which shut down after its editors were (unsuccessfully) prosecuted for obstructing conscription. Hugo Gellert created this and many other Liberator covers.
One of many gorgeous illustrations by Harry Clarke from Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (1916).