Friday, March 6, 2009

Bound for the Future

Today, magazines are considered pretty disposable - we skim them, maybe pull out a recipe or two and discard them (hopefully in a recycling bin). But in the mid-19th century, magazines or periodicals were taken more seriously. They were read cover to cover, shared with friends and neighbors and sometimes bound in an "annual" containing an entire year.

These carefully saved magazines are a goldmine for the living historian, containing a large variety of details of everyday life, or at least details from a middle class perspective. I recently added to my collection, a bound edition of Graham's Magazine for 1855.
It's enormous, almost four inches thick! This is an especially nicely bound edition, look at the beautiful endpapers:
19th century magazines usually contained works of fiction, short stories or serialized longer works. These are usually cloyingly sentimental by modern tastes (and the poetry is even worse), but are useful for the little details they describe: what kind of dog does an elderly lady keep as a pet, attitudes toward servants, what to wear to church, etc. Sometimes these are illustrated:

These illustrations can also yield some wonderful details, for instance, the birdcage in the background, the upholstered sofa, and why is she wearing her bonnet indoors?

Fashion plates are almost always included, to tempt the ladies of the household:

As well as patterns for fancywork:

While Graham's is intended for the whole family, other magazines such as Godey's Ladies Book, were more slanted for the ladies and contained more recipes, fashion, advice on child rearing, etc. - just like today.

Some things just don't change - what would the magazines of today indicate about us to the historians of the future?

1 comment:

  1. what a fabulous post and wonderful edition to your collection!!! today's magazine's for the most part in IMHO don't say much of anything good or valuable about our country as a whole - celebrity has taken over! in the media it seems that average good hearted, hard working and loving families have all but been forgotten!