Paul Revere, a name synonymous with our American Revolution, once worked in the magazine industry.
According to Steven Lomazow, a New Jersey neurologist with a personal collection of more than 83,000 issues, this country has a deep and powerful collective American magazine history. Dr. Lomazow was recently interviewed by Nathan Heller of the New Yorker about his massive collection.
“Here’s a magazine from 1774, The Royal American Magazine, which was published by Isaiah Thomas,” Lomazow said to Heller, pointing to a title in his current exhibition of magazines at the Grolier Club in NYC. “Its illustrator at the time was a fairly unknown engraver by the name of Paul Revere.”
Lomazow’s exhibition covers the history of magazines in this country, with around 200 issues of “acute historical importance,” like the one Revere illustrated. Also in the collection is a copy of The Columbian Magazine from August 1787.
“The Columbian Magazine is probably the most significant magazine of that era—it had the greatest engravings and some of the best literature,” Lomazow said.
As Heller notes, the original purchaser of this particular issue was Ben Franklin, a fact we know from the name scrawled on the front cover.
“Most Revolutionary-era magazines had local audiences, small by today’s measure (press runs were in the low thousands or fewer), but popular issues were passed hand to hand,” Heller writes. “The surprising thing today is not how many long-forgotten publications served early American society but how much from their pages has come down to us.”
The article takes a fascinating look as some iconic titles and how they not only represented their times but help us understand our own history in a more concrete way. In this way, magazines really do live up to the etymology of their name — Heller notes “magazine” comes from the word for “storehouse.”
These magazines — from 1774 right up to a recent issue of Oprah’s O and 200 others in between — are a storehouse of social and political discourse, struggle, challenge and growth of this great country of ours.
“And yet it’s notable that what made magazines appealing in 1720 is the same thing that made them appealing in 1920 and in 2020: a blend of iconoclasm and authority, novelty and continuity, marketability and creativity, social engagement and personal voice,” Heller writes. “The Grolier show makes clear that most of the country’s major history passed through its periodicals.”
With the curation problem of the digital news industry, the real power of magazines is preserving this important historical perspective. That magazine may crumble if it’s mistreated, but paper and ink is the only media we know to work regardless of current technology.
If we want to truly learn — as individuals and as a society — from the mistakes and successes of our past, print magazines offer an astonishing array of lessons.