The collector: Emma Jarvis, Glossop, near Manchester. My ‘real’ job is an English teacher, although I dream of opening up my own vintage homeware shop.
The collection: Women’s magazines from the 1940s to 1960s, focusing mainly on the 1950s.
The story behind the collection...
I bought a stack of French magazines from the early 1950s at a car boot sale. The illustrations really appealed to me; unfortunately, not being able to speak French, I was unable to read them properly and so vowed to keep my eyes open for some English ones. Luckily, about six months later I found a man on a car boot sale selling his late mother’s collection of Woman’s Own and Woman magazines from the 1950s. I picked up one, flicked through it and was immediately sold. Tentatively, I asked the price and was staggered when he said I could have the lot for £10. He mentioned that he had even more at home, so a few weeks later I went to visit. He did have a few more: close to one hundred more! All of the magazines had been collected by his mother sporadically over four decades. I bought all of them! Since then, the collection has been supplemented with presents and the odd find in antiques shops, markets and stalls.
They appeal to me on many different levels. I adore Mid Century design in both clothing and the home; as a former Linguistics student, I find the evidence of language change fascinating (see some of the adverts I’ve included). Some are unintentionally humourous, whilst other phrase I find quite charming. “Tartan is still tops!” is one of my favourites. Then there are the features, articles, advice pages, horoscopes and short stories which are a piece of history in themselves. I’ve actually learned so much since I started reading this about women at the time; their roles in the home and workplace, their attitudes, ambitions and aspirations. Even small things like, I didn’t realise that rationing continued for such a long time after the Second World War had ended – I learned that from an article on how to make your ration coupons stretch further.
The magazines have also sparked off a massive interest in illustration and graphic design. Artists such as Ben Ostrick, Joe de Mers, Aubrey Rix, Gerry Fancett, John Whitcomb are amongst my favourites, but there were so many talented people working in this area who have largely gone unnoticed. Through desperately trying to research many of these artists, a few months ago I discovered a fantastic blog called ‘Today’s Inspiration’ which profiles several of the people working during this era. The man who runs that site used to work in the industry and is extremely helpful in providing information when contacted. Biographical details on these people is scarce, but I’ve had a few relatives of artists I’ve featured contact me which is tremendously exciting.
I have about two hundred, more if the French magazines are included. The earliest one I have is from 1937. The largest proportion of my collection is from 1952 as my partner, Aidan, managed to source me a job lot from that year for last Christmas.
What does the collection reveal about me? A refusal to live in the modern day and age?! Honestly, I think it shows the way my mind meanders from topic to topic. I’m interested in everything and everyone – I probably should have been an anthropologist; and since a young age I’ve always yearned for time travel. This is one way to achieve that. As there are so many, I can really become intimate with the details of women’s lives at the time. I’ve stopped reading modern women’s magazines altogether. I found that when I did pick one up, the insatiable gossip and tearing down of other women jarred with the practical, ‘all-in-it-together’ attitude of the 1950s’ woman.
The covers here are some of my favourites, but chosen for different reasons, but it’s difficult to choose a particular one as there are so many. Some of the hats shown are utterly absurd and always raise a smile when I pick that particular magazine up; the summer editions are just beautiful and joyful to look at; and the Princess Margaret covers are a regular feature you cannot escape as these magazines were unashamedly Royalist. Following Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret around was the 1950s equivalent of our Z-list celebrity stalking. I definitely prefer the old version of celebrity to the new!
Mary Grant’s Problem Page is always fascinating. Our view of the 1950s is that sex was a taboo subject; yet these letters often reveal the exact problems many people face now, they’re just often discussed using various euphemisms. Having said that, some of the advice given is occasionally shocking to a modern woman: from advising a woman to break off an engagement with a fiancé she had discovered to be epileptic, to telling another not to confess to her husband that she had slept with another man before marriage in case he left her. More often than not, Mary Grant’s advice seems to be to put the feelings of the husband and children before your own. Quite different from Cosmo then!
I regularly post pictures of my collection on my blog, usually focusing in on months or themes related to the time of year. I’m always interested in seeing other people’s collections or receiving comments on the pictures. At some point, I’d like to catalogue them all properly, and maybe create something like Ciao Vogue – the website featuring vintage Vogue magazines from the 60s and 70s.
There is also a fantastic book called Lifestyle Illustrations of the 60s which features hundreds and hundreds of illustrations from these magazines. I’d definitely recommend that as a good place to start reading.
Emma's blog: http://littleowlski.wordpress.com
Images © Emma Jarvis & used with her kind permission.