Newsstand: 1925: The Golden Book

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

 

Overview

           The Golden Book, a reprint mass-market magazine published by

the Review of Reviews Corporation, carried stories and poetry from

a multitude of genres. Quite popular on its initial appearance, it

sparked numerous copy-cat magazines, such as Famous Story and

Fiction Parade. Following the loss of its original editor, and suffering losses in readership losses, The Golden Book combined with Fiction Parade in 1935 in an attempt to regain its footing in the marketplace, but eventually folded in 1938

Arrival of The Golden Book

 

Published by the Review of Reviews Corporation, The Golden Book ran from January of 1925 until September of 1935. A reprint magazine featuring older material, The Golden Book quickly found its place as a popular title on the newsstand of 1925, and the subscriptions to the magazine soon reached 81,000 (about half its total distribution) a little over a year from its initial appearance.(1)

When The Golden Book’s first issue hit the newsstands, it certainly made a splash. True, literary magazines were by no means a new idea, but a literary pulp seemed by nature to be somewhat contradictory. From an article in the December 29th, 1924 issue of Time regarding this dichotomy:

Among the Christmas magazines at the news-stalls there lay a newcomer, a monthly fiction magazine…You stared at this magazine because there, beside the lady's golden skirt, in big red letters, the list of contributors looked so extraordinary. You had heard all the names before, but for a moment you could in no way connect them with a news-stall. It was like running across a bishop in a saloon or seeing your wife about to play quarter- back for the ‘Varsity.(2)

Henry Wysham Lanier served as the first editor of the magazine, aided by assistant editors John Cotton Dana, a librarian from Newark; Charles Mills Gayley, Professor at the University of California; William Lyon Phelps, Professor at Yale University; and Stuart P. Sherman, the literary editor of the New York Herald-Tribune (Time, “Golden”). When selecting what works were to go into each issue, Lanier could have very easily selected from only the well-knowns—Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, O. Henry, Jack London, Don Marquis, Guy de Maupassant, Lord Tennyson, Lord Dunsany, William Blake, Ambrose Bierce—and not have been without ample material. But Lanier’s editorial policy allowed inclusion from lesser known authors and authors who were considered to be merely ‘popular’ writers. While such contents as Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus concerning Vesuvius’s burial of Pompeii, George Washington’s “An Invitation,” Napoleon’s “On Gorgona,” and John Milton’s “On Time” are all important works of political, historical and philosophical interest, they were hardly as available to the general public as O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” Mark Twain’s “Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning,” or Bret Harte’s “How Santa Claus Came to Simpson’s Bar.”

Even the magazine’s title represents this combination of highbrow and entertaining literature. The name originates from the Italian Libro d’Oro della Nobilità Italiana (The Golden Book of Italian Nobility). First published in 1910, this book contains a list of the Venetian noble families. Just as the original Golden Book separated the social elite from the common people, so was The Golden Book designed to be “for a literary aristocracy . . . not of birth, but of performance” (ibid.). While highbrow magazines might specialize in the first set of works, and popular fiction magazines in the second, The Golden Book published all of those works. Lanier’s guidance helped navigate the magazine between the highbrow and lowbrow magazines of the time, in order to provide its audience with material that was both entertaining and intellectually stimulating, but not leaning too far in any singular direction.

 

Editorial Changes and Fiction Parade

 

The initial success of The Golden Book, however, did not foreshadow the trouble that loomed on the horizon. In 1928, Charles Lanier, Henry’s brother, withdrew his financial backing for the magazine—the reason for his withdrawal from the publication is unknown. As a result, Lanier was forced to resign from his editorial position. A string of four editors followed, each of whom stayed in the position for only a short while, but who made substantial changes to editorial policy. That Henry Lanier’s three-year reign as editor was unmatched by any of his successors speaks of the tumultuous history of the magazine.

The physical format underwent an overhaul in 1931, changing from the smaller, standard size pulp paper to a larger format semi-slick paper.(3) Unfortunately, this improvement in presentation was counterbalanced by the drop in actual material from 128 to 96 pages (ibid.). Further changes were made in regards to the magazines content. As written in the Time article Press: Twice-Told Tales, “Its editorial formula wavered to include radical political speeches, varying proportions of contemporary stories and, of late, heavily Rabelaisian fiction. Advertising management was equally unsteady, equally botched.”(4) These rapid changes to style, format and policy quickly caused The Golden Book to lose its footing, and the total readership quickly fell, reaching an all-time low of 53,000 in 1935 (Time “Twice”). However, it was at this time that The Golden Book was presented with an opportunity to be saved.

New on the magazine scene, Fiction Parade delivered its first issue in May of 1935. It, like The Golden Book, was a reprint magazine, though it specialized in an almost-wholly contemporary collection of material. Serving as editor was Francis Rufus Bellamy who was no stranger to the editorial business, having served as chief editor for The New Yorker, and who would go on to be editor of Scriber’s Commentator.

When September of 1935 rolled around, Bellamy had quite an announcement to make. Fiction Parade may have had a mere 30,000 subscribers, but The Golden Book now had a grand total of zero. As announced in Time on the 16th of September, 1935, Fiction Parade and The Golden Book merged into a dual title in October of that year, serving as a reprint magazine carrying a balance of both old and new material (ibid.).

Unfortunately, the combined Fiction Parade and Golden Book would last only three more years before putting out its final issue in 1938.

—Contextualization by Treyson Sanders

 

 

Notes

1. The Audit Bureau of Circulation, 1926.

2. “The Press: Golden Book.” Time 29 Dec. 1924. Print.

3. Galactic Central. Ed. Phil Stephensen-Payne. 2009. 15 October 2009. <http://www.philsp.com/

     index.html>.

4. “The Press: Twice-Told Tales.” Time 16 Sep. 1935.

 

Bibliography

 

“The Press: Golden Book.” Time 29 Dec. 1924.

“The Press: Twice-Told Tales.” Time 16 Sep. 1935.

Galactic Central. Ed. Phil Stephensen-Payne. 2009. 15 October 2009. <http://www.philsp.com/index.html>.

The Audit Bureau of Circulation, 1926.

 

click cover for contents and .pdf

July 1925

Genre:

Fiction Reprint

Publisher:

The Review of Reviews Corporation

Place of Publication:

New York

Years of Run:

1925-1938

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

525,000 in 1926, Audit Bureau of Circulation