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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

Collecting Vintage Magazines

Updated: May 6

We are both extreme bibliophiles. When we were looking for somewhere to live a primary consideration was where to store our books. Of course, we don't have time to read them, but the stored potential is important to us. In the course of our explorations in French antiques we also end up wading through and acquiring tons of antique books and magazines often spending just centimes. This will be an unusual post as we will discuss value, in all its senses. I'll also make some vast generalizations which I hope the reader will forgive.

Antique books are of course a highly specialized field in their own right- we simply buy what we like the look of and if it has no market value we're happy to keep it on our straining shelves. It's slightly depressing that there are so many old crumbling books available that most have no monetary value at all. Vintage magazines are an interesting area in their own right.

It's pretty clear that some magazines have extraordinary cultural as well as money value. Serious Beatles fans almost certainly want a copy of the January 9, 1968, issue of “Look,” which included a quartet of full-page, psychedelic photos of John, Paul, George, and Ringo by Richard Avedon. Then there's the November 29, 1963, issue of “Life,” with its formal portrait of the recently assassinated JFK on its somber cover.

Being outside the US we won't see magazines with proven market value- original pictorials of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Muhammad Ali or cover illustrations by Rockwell, Parrish or Elvgren. The rules for what makes something valuable are wide-ranging.

Then there's commemorative issues for Royal Weddings, space missions, political deaths and so on. For most memorable events, you can find a "collectable" commemoration issue... which generally isn't collectable at all.

JFK or Moon landing-related magazines will rarely sell for more than $50. Why? Oversupply. Lots were printed and lots were kept. What we're looking for is things with accidental interest (which is the best kind!)

Most magazines aren't anywhere near as high minded. We come across a wide range in French markets. These vary from 19th century murder mystery classics, French versions of Penny Dreadfuls with detailed accounts of murders and mayhem, with the then-new science of detection mixed in, and vivid lithograph prints of mayhem in action.

From the 20th Century we come across plenty of vintage fashion magazines. This is where it gets interesting. The explosion in both literacy and cheap publishing gave the middle and working class a plethora of magazines. For women, this could be roughly divided into higher end style magazines such as Vogue and a raft of practical magazines covering housekeeping, embroidery and practical skills. Between these was a large crossover range covering both areas weirdly veering between post-war high street fashion, womens "issues" reporting and cooking tips. Post '45 the range in between became crowded and today we'll discover collections of obscure women's fashion magazines from the 50s and 60s. These are culturally interesting if you want to know more about day-to-day life in the 50s and 60s but otherwise not worth even carrying home today.

French Vogue has both cultural and often cash value, but most of the others aren't worth much- they were cheaply made to grab a foothold in a growing market and it often shows in poor printing paper and bad illustrations (this is one of those generalizations I talked about earlier). Nevertheless we can find magazines with interesting photography or even typefaces or layout. There is a market in selling these in blocks of 10 or 20 for decoration or even as single sheets for wallpaper.

Carole has a weakness for embroidery magazines- they are a skill which is almost lost today but which even in the 30s young ladies were learning through magazines, perhaps a bit like learning technical skills through YouTube (I'm not hip enough to know if this is actually a thing)

However, the post WW1 years were a golden age for illustrators in Europe, such as Raphael Kirchner, Erté, Henri Gerbault, Eduardo Benito, Pierre Brissaud. Their work appeared in European editions of Vogue and L'Illustration and others. La Vie Parisienne also attracted top flight illustrators like Robida and Droz and before its post WW2 demise would attract Zyg Brnnuer and Guy Arnouxa and many more.

Mens magazines are a collectors minefield. GQ, Playboy and Esquire have their own distinguished histories and are noted for their longevity in a fickle market. France is no different. In a similar vein to Playboy was Lui, admired for its in depth articles and journalism but bought for it pictorials of naked actresses. Even less sophisticated is the vivid market for what's best termed vintage filth.

European Mens style magazines were shortlived and for this reason alone are interesting. The majority of these magazines died when the pressures of modernity came and the world became more disposable. Rather than photography, most would have detailed illustrations- remember this was a time when many middle and upper class men would go to a tailor rather than buy ready to wear. Our favorites are Monsieur Magazine - originally a dazzling review of Les Annees Folles between the wars, it still exists (after several restarts). It was known for a writers roster of dandies and adventurers- the kind of men for whom writing was a secondary skill after fencing, duelling, choosing ties and collecting art. I came across it some time ago as it featured the illustrations of Floc'h, one of my favorite comic book artists.

Adam magazine was known for its stylish covers and frequently had illustrations by the legendary Rene Gruau. The title exported but in the US it turned into a pale imitation of Playboy.

L'Homme was a successful monthly mens style magazine which ran from June 1938 to December 1956 when it became L'Homme et le Maître Tailleur and then became L'Homme again from 1975 to 1980. We have been lucky to pick up some very early issues in very good condition.

L'Homme's magnificent illustrations alone are worth the entry price. There's a healthy interest in vintage style images.

As well as vintage pursuits

More intriguing is the tailoring patterns. Bespoke and M2M tailoring was as forgotten art for a while but there are plenty of recent startups in England and France who are spearheading an affordable tailoring revival.

We find there is a lot of interest in this as a craft. Tailoring was (and is) a trade learned through apprenticeship rather than in lectures and exams so remarkably little is written on how to build a mens or ladies suit. Vintage periodicals like L'Homme are some the last few places we can learn how tailoring worked and how we used to dress.

Some further reading:

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