Newsstand: 1925: ARGOSY ALL-STORY

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview

           Argosy All-Story Weekly began as a struggling children's magazine, but, at the hands of its ambitious creator, it became the first pulp magazine, as well as the first magazine with an all fiction format.

 

Argosy All-Story Weekly

 

           Through his experimentation with Argosy, Munsey broke ground in the mass market magazine industry that would spawn a revolution and deem him public enemy among proponents of high culture. Argosy carried on for a number of years and is a clear representation of a pulp magazine, encompassing not only the format but the lurid and adventurous tales as well.

 

The Early Years

 

           Argosy All-Story Weekly was the magazine’s title as it landed on the shelves of newsstands in 1925. The magazine debuted in 1882, however, as Golden Argosy a magazine for adolescents, very different from the 1925 version in both content and format. Golden Argosy was the first magazine to be published by Frank Munsey. The magazine began to falter around 1890 but Frank Munsey would not be turned away. His knack for adjusting to the market and appealing to the consumer would soon be unveiled and along with it the mass market and pulp magazine would soon take the nation by storm. Frank Munsey with Argosy and a number of other Munsey magazines would play key roles in drastically altering the face of mass media.

Only ten months after arriving in New York City from Maine, Frank Munsey, with only $40, published Golden Argosy[1]. The magazine struggled to compete in a market which, at the time, had a large number of children’s magazines. Only six years after publication, Golden Argosy was shortened to Argosy and became a monthly adult magazine considered by many to be the first magazine to have an all fiction format[2]. From this point forward, Frank Munsey would not look back with Argosy, making any change needed to keep the magazine moving forward.

 

The Mass Market and the Arrival of the Pulp

 

           The 1890s would be the decade of greatest contribution for Frank Munsey. From 1890 to 1894, Argosy maintained its content and format; however, Frank Munsey made two dramatic changes that not only changed his magazine drastically but also changed magazine industry. The first change occurred in 1894 when Munsey made a bold move to drop the price of his magazine to.10 cents a copy, relying on the increase in sales and advertisement to keep his magazine profitable and eventually to surpass other publications as the most profitable.

           Late in the 19th century, the publishing of magazines relied almost exclusively on the distributor The American News Company, an obstacle Munsey would have to face head-on. Munsey took his newly priced magazine to the American News Company in 1893, offering to pay them 6 ½ cents per copy to publish his magazine. Fortunately for Munsey, the company refused his offer, making a counter offer of 4 ½ cents[3]. Munsey declined. Instead, Munsey decided to take a risk and publish his own magazine, planning to sell directly to the newsstands at the price he dictated. The ability to be the publisher of his own magazine relied on two elements on the rise in the newly industrial nation. Train routes were expanding vastly, simultaneously easing distribution of magazines and making it easier for people to commute into cities where newsstands were abundant. The other instrumental factor was directly related the printing as the invention of the rotary press allowed for fast and easy printing. The initial circulation in 1893 of the Munsey’s first ten-cent magazine was only 40,000; a number that would reach a staggering 500,000 only two years later in April 1895 (Peterson 10).

           Paper was also very inexpensive and would become even cheaper when Munsey discovered yet another untapped resource. In October of 1896, Argosy became the first magazine to be published on pulp paper. Not only did this reshape the mass market magazine, but it also helped to establish the initial mold for pulp magazines of the future. The fiction found within Argosy encompasses quintessentially the content with which pulp magazines would come to be associated: adventure, science-fiction, mystery, action, melodrama, detective, and spy thrillers. After changing pulp paper, Argosy’s circulation doubled in a matter of months (Mott 30). Argosy was also one of the first magazines to print serial stories another trademark of later pulp magazines.

 

Argosy in the 1920s

 

           In 1919, Argosy briefly merged with Railroad Man’s Magazine (“Argosy”). The merge lasted less than a year. Argosy then merged again with All-Story Weekly, bearing a new title Argosy All-Story Weekly90. This new combination “featured stories by authors such as Frank Condon, Courtney Ryley, Octavus Roy Cohen, P. G. Wodehouse, Luke Short, Van Wyck Mason, C. S. Forester, and Max Brand” (ibid.). Throughout the twenties, Argosy All-Story Weekly featured stories such as Hopalong Cassidy and Zorro, and later would be the catalyst for the stories that would eventually become Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason.

 

The End of a Legacy

 

           1925 was particularly eventful for Argosy as its creator Frank Munsey passed away. Because Munsey had no family, his wishes were to have his industry converted to cash. The assets were appraised to have a value of $20,000,000 (ibid.). William T. Dewart, the general manager of Munsey’s enterprise purchased Munsey’s magazine along with the “New York Sun” (Mott 422). Argosy changed hands a number of times and was successful another 47 years when it finally met its demise in 1972. A number of other organizations picked up the Argosy name after 1972, but those magazines are now gone as well. The last Argosy to hit the shelves was in 2003, though it had no connection to the original Munsey creation, it did attempt to capture the same genres with science-fiction and mystery. The original Argosy has passed but its name and the Munsey legacy live on.

—Contextualization by Justin King

 

Notes

 

[1]Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938.

[2]"Argosy." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. St. James Press, 2000. Reproduced in  History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale. http://galenet.galegroup.com.ezproxy.lib.uwf.edu/servlet/HistRC/

[3]Peterson, Theodore Bernard. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964.

 

click cover for magazine

June 27th, 1925

Genre:

Pulp, Adventure

Publisher:

The Frank A. Munsey Corporation

Place of Publication:

New York

Years of Run:

1882-1979

Frequency of Publication:

Weekly [Bi-monthly Nov. 1941 – July 1942, Monthly thereafter]

Circulation in 1925:

1,230,000 in 1924 (distribution: 410,000, Audit Bureau of Circulation)