March 5, 2013

Slideshow: Will H. Bradley and Little Magazines in America

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The Grolier Club is hosting a free exhibit, American Little Magazines of the 1890s: A Revolution in Print, from February 20-March 27. Featuring magazines such as The Philistine, the Bibelot, the Chap-Book, M’lle New York and The Echo, it aims to tell a story about American literary, artistic, and social life around the turn of the 20th Century. The curator is Kirsten MacLeod, a professor from Newcastle University.

Dozens of small magazines, each appearing to mock the last, line the walls of the exhibition with social papers, politics, and poetry. There’s a marvelous stand-alone section on the many magazines that made fun of Stephen Crane, including a rhyming poem mocking his modern verses and the amount he was paid (thirty-five cents per line). Did you know that The Society of the Philistines once hosted him for a roast, inviting hundreds of guests, and only twenty or so people showed up? In the letters displayed, it’s clear he was rather gracious about it. Kate Chopin and Booth Tarkington are mentioned in the exhibit as well.

But viewers will get a stronger sense of the magazines’ aesthetic than the editorial content, and a highlight are the covers designed by Will H. Bradley. Deemed “dean of American design,” by the Saturday Evening Post, Bradley was one of the premiere graphic designers of his time. His work was instrumental in popularizing the art nouveau style in the U.S.

The draw of national advertising was enough to inspire publishers to found about 7,500 periodicals in America between 1885 and 1905. Newsstand sales outweighed subscription services, and innovative covers added to newsstand appeal. It became popular to collect magazine posters in the 1890s. Bradley was the highest-paid designer of his time, and he is credited with popularizing the two-dimensional poster in the States. Bradley also founded his own magazine, Bradley His Book, in 1896.

If you’d like to learn more about the Little Magazine exhibit, two talks are coming up:

On March 13, 6-7:30 pm, Philip R. Bishop, bookseller, rare books specialist, author, and expert on the Mosher Press, will talk about Thomas Mosher‘s importance in the little magazine movement. This will be followed by a Collectors’ Forum featuring Philip R. Bishop, Mark Samuels Lasner, David W. Lowden, and Jean-François Vilain, lenders to the exhibition, who will discuss their collections and the place of little magazines of the 1890s within them. On March 28, 5-7 pm, there will be a symposium on American Little Magazines of the 1890s featuring talks by Johanna Drucker (UCLA), Brad Evans (Rutgers University), David Weir (Cooper Union), and Kirsten MacLeod (Newcastle University).

Kirsten Reach was an editor at Melville House.

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