120 Years of THE ARGOSY — The World’s First Pulp Magazine

Jun 21, 2016 by

Frank A. MunseyThe leading American magazines of the late 1800s – HARPER’S, CENTURY MAGAZINE, and SCRIBNER’S – were beyond the financial and the intellectual reach of the average U. S. citizen. It was left to Frank A. Munsey – a man about whom it has been suggested, “contributed to the journalism of his day the talent of a meat packer, the morals of a money changer and the manner of an undertaker” – to deliver the first American periodical specifically intended for the common man: “A magazine of the people and for the people, with pictures and art and good cheer and human interest throughout.”

Born in Maine, Frank Munsey traveled to New York City and founded a children’s weekly, THE GOLDEN ARGOSY, in 1882. Working largely on credit, he struggled for years, building his circulation through advertising and sheer determination. Deciding that the future lay in the adult market, he started MUNSEY’S WEEKLY in 1889, soon converting it to MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE. In 1893, convinced that a magazine could only be successful if the price was right, he slashed the price of MUNSEY’S  to a dime and marketed it directly to newsdealers, essentially cutting out the middle man.

As the circulation of MUNSEY’S  climbed to hundreds of thousands of copies, the publisher converted THE ARGOSY to an adult magazine, similarly priced and modeled after it’s brethren. Envisioning a new kind of magazine, Frank Munsey wrote, “We want stories . . . . not dialect sketches, not washed out studies of effete human nature, not weak tales of sickly sentimentality, no ‘pretty’ writing . . . . We do want fiction in which there is a story, a force, a tale that means something – in short a story. Good writing is as common as clam shells, while good stories are as rare as statesmanship.”

Argosy 1896-12In October 1896, THE ARGOSY became the first all-fiction magazine. Two months later in a cost-cutting move, it began to be printed on the wood-pulp paper he used for his daily newspaper and the rough-paper fiction magazine, or pulp, was born. Shortly thereafter, its circulation had doubled to about 80,000 copies per issue. By 1907, the year the periodical celebrated its 25th anniversary, its circulation had reached a half million copies, earning its publisher about $300,000 per year.

As its readership grew, THE ARGOSY was bound to attract some imitators. Street & Smith, the longtime publisher of dime novels and story papers, was first to meet the call, debuting THE POPULAR MAGAZINE with its November 1903 issue. As the circulation of his competitors’ magazine grew, it became apparent to Munsey that there was room on the newsstand for more than one pulp. At the end of 1904, the publisher debuted THE ALL-STORY MAGAZINE. It was soon joined by other Munsey magazines – THE SCRAP BOOK and THE RAILROAD MAN’S MAGAZINE (both 1906), THE OCEAN/THE LIVE WIRE (1907), and THE CAVALIER (1908).

Although not the most influential of pulp magazines — pulp scholar Ed Hulse has suggested that title belongs to THE ALL-STORY, a magazine that featured the first published stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Max Brand, and A. Merritt, plus the iconic characters John Carter, Tarzan, and Zorro — ARGOSY was widely read by a wide range of readers and enjoyed a long life. It lasted as a pulp — absorbing other titles and taking on new names — for over 1500 issues and nearly fifty years. Following its August 1943 issue, it was converted to the slick format, reducing its fiction content and eventually becoming a men’s adventure magazine. As such, it lasted into the 1970s, its final number dated November 1979.

Please join PulpFest 2016 at 8:25 PM on Saturday, July 23, as we welcome pulp collector and scholar Doug Ellis to our programming stage in the Union Rooms on the second floor of the Hyatt Regency Columbus for a discussion of “120 Years of THE ARGOSY — The World’s First Pulp Magazine.” Doug has been collecting and writing about pulp magazines for over thirty years. In 1987, he founded Tattered Pages Press, a publishing house devoted to reprinting fiction from and books about –the pulps. He’s the editor of the celebrated fanzine PULP VAULT  and co-author — joining John Locke and John Gunnison — of THE ADVENTURE HOUSE GUIDE TO THE PULPS. He’s also the author of UNCOVERED: THE HIDDEN ART OF THE GIRLIE PULPS and the co-founder of the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention. In recognition of his service to the pulp community, Doug received a Lamont Award in 1996.

Argosy 47-07During his presentation, Doug will touch briefly on the early years of ARGOSY, prior to its conversion to a pulp magazine. He will then turn his attention to the beginnings and the evolution of the pulp, examining the long history of the magazine, including its mergers with other pulps, sale to Popular Publications, conversion to a bedsheet magazine, and later, to a men’s adventure magazine. Doug also plans to visit the many story types and great authors featured in the general fiction magazine, as well as its various series characters such as H. Bedford-Jones’ John Solomon, George F. Worts’ Peter the Brazen, and J. U. Giesy’s and Junius B. Smith’s Semi Dual.

Start making your plans to attend “Summer’s AMAZING Pulp Con” as we salute the 120th anniversary of the birth of the pulp magazine from July 21 through July 24 in the Columbus, Ohio Arena district at the Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s spacious convention center. “You’ll be in for a great adventure” at PulpFest, the pop culture center of the universe. Please remember that the Hyatt Regency Columbus is sold out of rooms for July 21 through July 23. You’ll find a list of area hotels courtesy of the Greater Columbus Convention Center at www.columbusconventions.com/thearea.phpAlternately, you can search for a room at tripadvisor or a similar website to find a hotel near the convention. Thanks so much to everyone who has reserved a room at our host hotel. By staying at the Hyatt Regency, you’ve helped to ensure the convention’s success.

(In 1882, Frank A. Munsey founded THE GOLDEN ARGOSY, a children’s weekly. Fifty years later, ARGOSY publisher William DeWart wrote “The History of the ARGOSY Magazine,” published in the December 10, 1932 number. It was illustrated with a line drawing of the magazine’s founder.

Beginning with its December 1896 issue — nearly 120 years ago — Munsey converted THE ARGOSY to the first pulp fiction magazine. For over 1500 issues and nearly fifty years, it battled on as a pulp. Following its August 1943 issue, it was converted to the slick format, reducing its fiction content and eventually becoming a men’s adventure magazine. As such, it lasted into the 1970s, its final number dated November 1979.

During its early issues as a slick, ARGOSY employed painted covers, including the July 1947 number with cover art by Charles Dye, a graduate of the American Academy of Art. Moving to New York City, Dye’s first freelance assignments were interior story illustrations for Popular Publications’ western pulp magazines. He later sold covers to Popular’s ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, and other pulps. During the 1950s, he found steady work contributing covers and interior story illustrations to men’s adventure magazines, including SAGA, OUTDOOR LIFE, and ARGOSY.)