Mass-circulation women's magazines were created by the literacy boom of the late 19th century and sustained by the social changes of the 20th century.


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Collecting Old Newspapers

Susan Mink Colclough - April
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Women's Magazines


Mass-circulation women's magazines were created by the literacy boom of the late 19th century and sustained by the social changes of the 20th century.

 Magazines produced exclusively for women were published from time to time from the 17th century on. They did not last very long, largely because most women - and for that matter, most men could not read.

  It was only in the Victorian era that the idea of education for all took bold, and a succession of Education Acts in the latter half of the 19th century made the state responsible for compulsory education.

 There were notable women's magazines in the 19th century. One of the first successes was a monthly, Englishwomen's Domestic Magazine, launched by Mrs Beeton's husband, Samuel, in 1852.

 It had a cover price of tuppence and many features familiar to readers of modern women's magazines. It had a practical, instructive approach to domestic matters, with advice supplied by Mrs Beeton, fashion notes and, to provide the essential dash of escapism, romantic stories. There was even an agony column, Cupid's Letter Bag.


 From 1880 to 1900, literacy. rates increased as the educational reforms took effect. Most people, and certainly most young people, were literate by the Edwardian period.

 The new readers created a large market for reading material. Publishers fought to satisfy the demand, and there was a great boom in magazine sales.

 Prices were kept low by the keen competition, and magazines began to carry advertising to supplement their income.

 Several women's magazines were selling in large numbers by the turn of the century. They concentrated on covering traditional concerns around the home and family, with features on fashion and fiction thrown in for fun. Political comment was generally excluded, despite the growth of the Women's Suffrage Movement in the years before World War 1.

 Although all the magazines seemed to be constructed on conventional lines, containing the same mix of advice, fiction and fashion, the balance between these features varied considerably, according to the class of readers the magazine sought to attract.

 Cheap magazines, disparagingly known as penny dreadfuls, were aimed at young, working women, and were made up largely of lurid stories that offered them a temporary escape from their drudgery. The Lady's Own Novelette was a popular example.

 By contrast, magazines such as The Lady's Realm and The Gentlewoman were aimed at upper-class women, and had less fiction and more on high fashion and practical matters such as managing a household full of servants.

 Problem pages were pretty much universal.
After World War 1, when servants became scarce, the quality magazines began to concentrate on handy home hints for women from the leisured classes who were suddenly expected to run their own homes.

 The midmarket magazines, meanwhile, concerned themselves with economic management in the home. The servant shortage and the growth of suburbia had combined to create the largest of all special-interest groups, housewives.

 By the beginning of the 20th century, quality magazines had become the ultimate arbiters of fashion, taste and etiquette for middleclass women in many countries in Europe as well as in the United States.


 There are many ways to organize a collection of women's magazines. You can concentrate on trying to get a complete run of a particular favourite, or collect around a theme. Fashion is a good example.

 Anyone interested in the history of fashion will find much to interest them in old issues of Vogue, La Mode and Mode Illustrated. Fans of melodrama will find much to enjoy in the penny dreadfuls.

 All women's magazines carried some gossip about the personalities of the day, some of them famous still, others lost to memory. Issues of magazines with gossip about royalty are always popular, and royal romances or scandals make good collecting material.


 Old women's magazines are just the sort of thing that might turn up in granny's attic. Failing this, there are specialist dealers in magazines and paper ephemera of all kinds.

 It's unlikely that you'll be able to pick up magazines in mint condition. They weren't made to last 50 years or more.

 A little wear and tear or creasing is perfectly acceptable, but flick through the magazine before buying to make sure the paper is not brittle with age; you don't want your treasure to disintegrate when you get it home.

 Don't worry too much about yellowing. This is common in old paper and won't detract much from the value.

 When considering a purchase, though, do make sure that the issue is complete. The centre pages of staple-bound magazines may have come adrift, while people have always tended to snip out knitting patterns or recipes to keep. Missing pages will seriously affect any value the magazine has.

 Old magazines should always be carefully stored, preferably in individual plastic bags. The paper is subject to damage by insects, damp and heat, while strong light can fade colour printing and make paper brittle.


Taking Liberties : Early American Women's Magazines and Their Readers Amy Beth Aronson; Hardcover

The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media
by Carolyn Kitch

A Magazine of Her Own?: Domesticity and Desire in the Woman's Magazine, 1800-1914
by Margaret Beetham

Understanding Women's Magazines
by Anna Gough

Women's Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular Press
by Nancy Walker

Womans Day


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