by Linda Farmer Harris
Finding old magazines, really old magazines, that are intact and readable is a researcher's treat. The old book and magazine section is the first place I head when I visit an antique, thrift or second-hand store.
Several years ago, I found six hard-back bound volumes of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.
I was overjoyed to say the least. I had been researching the years 1889, 1890, and 1891. You can imagine my delight when I found these six volumes.
Vol. LXXIX June 1889 to November 1889
Vol. LXXXII December 1890 to June 1891
Vol. LXXXIII July 1891 to December 1891
Vol. LXXXIV January 1892 to June 1892
Vol. LXXXV July 1892 to October 1892
Vol. CIX July 1904 to December 1904
They contain vintage pictures, copies of now famous artwork, articles about exotic places, plays, novel series, jokes, poems, cartoons, Editor Corners, Monthly Record of Current Events, and much more.
Reading the stories my
hero and heroine would have read in their parlor by lamplight was
thrilling. It was fun imagining them reading about the foreign
countries, strange cultures and customs, talking about the new artwork
and stories we now designate as significant contributions to the art and
The first issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine was published in June, 1850 (Volume 0001 Issue 1) by Harper and Bros, New York. It was published monthly for three dollars per annum. "The design of the Publishers, in issuing this work, is to place within the reach of the great mass of the American people the unbounded treasures of the Periodical Literature of the present day."
Their choice of 62 articles for the premier issue was fascinating. For example - some of the titles from the 144 pages, double columns include:
• Women In The East by an Oriental Traveler (pp. 10-13)
• Eruption of Mount Etna in 1669 (pp.35-37)
• Milking In Australia (pp. 37-38)
• Steam (p.50)
• Lizzie Leigh by Charles Dickens (pp. 38-50)
• The Snowy Mountains in New Zealand (p. 65)
• The Genius Of George Sand—The Comedy Of Francois Le Champi (pp. 95-97)
• Madame Grandin (p. 135)
Some of the articles came from other publications such as Bentley's Monthly Miscellany, Dublin University Magazine, The Ladies' Companion, and Household Words, to name a very few.
The Magazine includes quarterly reviews of both Great Britain and the United States, speeches and addresses of distinguished men upon topics of universal interest and importance, economy of social and domestic life, and a fashion plate.
The language, descriptions, and word choices are enchanting as shown in the description of the Fashions for Early Summer (pp. 142-144).
"There is a decided tendency in fashion this season to depart from simplicity in dress, and to adopt the extreme ornamental elegance of the middle ages. Bonnets, dress, and mantles are trimmed all over with puffings of net, lace, and flowers. A great change has taken place in the width of the skirts, which, from being very large, are now worn almost narrow. Ball dresses a tablier (apron trimming, as seen in the erect in the erect figure on the left of the above group) are much in vogue, covered with puffings of net. The three flounces of lace, forming the trimming of the bottom of the dress, have all a puffing of net at the top of them; the whole being fastened to the apron with a rosette of ribbon.
"A precious gem is sometimes worn in the centre of the rosette, either diamond, emerald or ruby, according to the color of the dress. Nearly all of the sleeves of visiting dresses are Chinese, or "pagoda" fashion.
Broad-brimmed straw hats are used for the promenade; open-work straw bonnets, of different colors, are adopted for the earlier summer wear, trimmed with branches of lilac, or something as appropriate.
"Crinoline hats of open pattern, trimmed generally with a flower or feathers, are worn to the opera. There is a style of walking dress, worn by those who have less love for ornaments."
I could go on and on for six whole annual compilations, but I'll let you select your own volume, and stories, to read.
Cornell University Library has developed the Making of American series. You can browse 98 of Harper's New Monthly Magazine volumes from 1850-1899 at http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/h/harp/harp.html. More are expected to be added.
It reminded me of our current day National Geographic - http://www.nationalgeographic.com. It's formerly The National Geographic Magazine, the official magazine of the National Geographic Society. It has been published continuously since its first issue in 1888, nine months after the Society itself was founded.
The Society is considered one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions in the world. It, too, has interest in geography, archaeology and natural science as well as environmental and historical conservation.
A commentator recently said that we're living in the Lost Information Age. His contention was that the written word is being digitized at such a rapid rate that we are throwing away volumes of print materials. He was afraid that a power serge, hacking, or electrical grid failures would cause us to lose centuries worth of valuable information.
What do you think? Is the digital media doing us a favor or setting us up to be at a loss for words?
Lin writes historical fiction set primarily in the 1890s. In Christmas Gold, the last thing Eleanor Masters, a confirmed city girl, has to worry about on the 1890 Texas ranch is fashion. The city-perfect clothes are still in the wardrobe as she learns to ride western-style and lead a camel. Lin enjoys history that is steeped in daily living. She and her husband, Jerry, live on a hay and cattle ranch in Chimney Rock, Colorado.
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