Issues: Tony Quinn, magazine historian

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Tony Quinn founded magforum.com in 2001, a site many magCulture readers will be well-acquainted with as it’s all about the past, present and future of magazines and publishing. After celebrating the publication of his new book History of British Magazine Design this week with a party at the magCulture shop, we now have a look through his personal collection of magazines.

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Tony selected three magazines for us: a new issue, an old issue, and a detail from a magazine that he finds exceptional. It was a difficult choice, seeing as his collection is so large:

“I recently discovered that I have 29,754 images of magazines and something like 3,000 actual issues. The magazines are catalogued in two alphabetic wordprocessor files that together take up 5MB on my hard drive.  Most of the magazines are stored in boxes between my flat in Borough and a house in the medieval wool town of Hadleigh in Suffolk.  This set of cubes in my bedroom holds mainly books about magazines, journalism and design.”

A new issue: Delayed Gratification

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I try not to collect magazines because I already have far too many (the V&A book is dedicated to my partner and children for ‘putting up with all the boxes’). So the only magazine I only subscribe to, apart from the RSA Journal and Printing Historical Society Newsletter, is Delayed Gratification. Having been involved in digital technology since my first magazine editorship, the BBC Micro magazine Acorn User, in 1982 (when I started using email) to running FT.com and the iPad editions until leaving the Financial Times at the end of last year, it is a pleasure to get away from the screen and sit down with an example of print at its best.

Rob Orchard and Marcus Webb have created a gem in pushing their slow journalism revolution with writing that cheers, informs and challenges in every issue, all illuminated with great infographics and wrapped up in fantastic covers. And it’s so well edited – a credit to the subs – with nary a slip. The only downside is that tickets for their infographics lectures are so sought-after that I’ve never been able to get one! This is issue 21 published last month for the final quarter of 2015 with the pop-arty ‘Rush Hour’ by Pittsburgh artist Ron Magnes on the cover.

An old issue: The Million

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As you can imagine, there are dozens I could have picked. What limited my choice was, first of all, being able to actually find the copies I was after! So it could have been the Peter Blake cover for Nova of the 11-year-old Mary Bell, who killed two babies in her care (I left that issue in Suffolk). Such a powerful article and image.

Nova was killed off by the arrival of Cosmopolitan – can you image a woman’s glossy running such a cover today? I knew about the Blake cover but was unable to find a copy for the magazine design book – then last month I was given a copy by a woman from Oxford who was clearing out her parents’ books and magazines. Another potential choice is still with the V&A – Marlene Deitrich as The Blonde Venus on the cover of London Life in 1934. This was such a creative magazine, changing its cover and title design every week with amazing skill by the production staff in colouring black-and-white publicity handouts.

In the event, I’ve gone for an even older magazine, the first issue of The Million from 1892. George Newnes, its founder, has to be the greatest innovator in the history of magazines. He had already launched Tit-Bits (training ground for both Arthur Cyril Pearson and Alfred Harmsworth), The Strand, Review of Reviews (with WT Stead) and the Wide World in just a decade, and was a genius in every aspect of publishing, whether editorially (bringing Sherlock Holmes to the mass market in the Strand), in marketing, in distribution (launching editions in New York as well as selling across the British Empire), advertising sales and in exploiting new technology.

The Million brought printing advances to bear to put colour on the cover of a penny weekly that was published with a tabloidish page size. The photographs show the cover, an engraving of Henry Irving as Cardinal Wolsey in a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII; the centre spread with an engraving of the Czar’s winter palace at St Petersburg;  and a back page from that great advertising pioneer, Pear’s.

And another thing… RSA Journal

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The Royal Society of Arts Journal from April 1995. The illustration is by German typographer Hermann Zapf, as in Dingbats (not to mention the typefaces Palatino, Optima and Zapfino). It shows the Sator word square, a Roman graffito that has been found carved in walls across the Roman Empire, from Cirencester to Syria. The palindrome has been translated as ‘Arepo the farmer holds wheels [a plough] for work’. The legendary crossword compiler Alec Robins (Custos in the Guardian, Zander in the Listener, the Observer’s Everyman) regarded this as the first crossword. I inherited Alec as a contributor when I became editor of InterCity Magazine, a contract title launched by former Nova and Observer Magazine editor Peter Crookston. Alec introduced me to the Sator square over lunch in Manchester in about 1990. Then, four years ago, I spent part of a sabbatical in Italy seeking out medieval examples in monasteries and churches, and Roman examples in Pompeii and underneath the crypt in the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Incredibly, the square can be read from left to right, right to left, top to bottom and bottom to top. Furthermore, the letters can be rearranged to form a cross made of the word ‘paternoster’ (our father in Latin) centred on the N. There are letters left over: two As and Os. As alpha and omega, the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet, these are then placed at the start and ends of the two bars of the cross. This was thought to be a Christian rebus, but the discovery at Pompeii suggests it predates Christianity.

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Tony Quinn’s new book is available online from the magCulture Shop.

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