Scribner's Magazine: An Introduction to the MJP Edition, 1910-1922

By Mark Gaipa

Scribner’s Magazine: An Introduction to the MJP Edition, 1910-1922

Readers today probably have never come across a copy of Scribner’s Magazine, whose final issue appeared way back in the spring of 1939. But they have surely heard of the magazine’s parent company, the publishing house of Charles Scribner’s Sons. Over the course of the twentieth century, Scribner’s brought us the works of such household names as Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Ring Lardner, and Thomas Wolfe. Readers today may also know of Scribner’s through its most famous editor, Max Perkins, whose work with authors has become the stuff of legend—like the way he and Fitzgerald collaborated to get Hemingway to leave Boni & Liveright for Scribner’s, or Perkin’s herculean effort of shaping coherent novels out of Thomas Wolfe’s endless manuscripts. Nearly synonymous with great modern American literature, Scribner’s titles can be found on most everyone’s bookshelf. Pick a novel at random off of yours, and chances are that it bears the Scribner imprint and distinctive logo: an image of “a burning lamp with a book surrounded by a laurel crown” (Scribner III 37). The logo is Scribner’s guarantee that you’ll find enlightenment and value in the pages that follow.1

Fig. 1: Scribner’s logos: on the title page of Roger Burlingame’s book (left) and on the cover of Scribner’s Magazine (March 1912)

Interestingly, that logo begins with Scribner’s Magazine—the original version was created by Stanford White, to anchor his design for the first cover of the magazine in January 1887; and White’s design and logo would brand covers of Scribner’s Magazine for years to come (Fig. 1), extending into the future the magazine’s original commitment to market a quality product. When Scribner’s published its first issue, it joined an elite group of American magazines that Frank Luther Mott refers to as the “quality” bracket (717) and Barbara Nourie as “the big four . . . quality popular journals of the late nineteenth century” (458)—the other three being Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Century.2 Each of these was a “general” interest or “popular” magazine, publishing articles on a wide array of topics, including a healthy dose of fiction and poetry; each was a monthly magazine, thoughtfully distanced from the news events charted by the weeklies; each was a “national” magazine, with an American circulation broad enough to aim beyond merely regional interests; and each addressed an “educated” audience from the upper-middle class—or “gentlefolk of means,” as Theodore Peterson puts it (3). Peterson reminds us that the quality associated with these magazines has as much to do with the status and wealth of their target audience as with the material they published.3 Quality is also, as the publishers knew quite well, a commodity to be sold. Betting that even well-to-do readers would appreciate a bargain, Scribner’s set out in 1887 to compete with the other elite magazines by offering the same high quality product for 25 cents per issue—a full 10 cents less than what the other quality magazines cost, though still quite a bit more than the inexpensive magazines at the other end of the spectrum (Mott 718).4

This attention to the business of publishing a profitable magazine carried through Scribner’s fifty-two year history, but it rarely interfered with its commitment to quality—though, as we will see, what constitutes quality in this period is a matter of debate. The “original policy” of Scribner’s, as described by the staff in 1933, is expressed in their publishing

the best that can be found to interest an intelligent American audience—in acquainting their readers with great art, great literature, the beauty of language, in keeping them informed on new modes of thought, new standards of thinking, in giving them a more thorough understanding of the problems confronting their everyday life, and in stimulating new writers of promise and publishing the work of leading authors. (Scribner’s June 1933, as quoted by Nourie 463)

Scribner’s Magazine was remarkably consistent in meeting these goals over time. As the house magazine for Scribner’s publishing, it helped find and funnel new talent toward the book company while securing greater exposure for Scribner’s established authors.5 And in its own right, the magazine continually aspired to the highest of standards without becoming highbrow or insular; “every one of its pages,” writes Mott, “bespoke modest but insistent ‘quality’” (718). It’s hardly surprising, then, that for years the latest issues of Scribner’s Magazine were proudly displayed in the parlors of many American households, providing subscribers with the gold standard for information about the world, literature, and the arts.6 And with a circulation that averaged above 100,000 but could rise to twice that, Scribner’s reached a wide and well-connected audience, both in America and abroad (with an edition of the magazine published in London). Scribner’s may not have been the most read magazine of the day—that honor goes to mass-circulation magazines like McClure’s, Munsey’s, and The Saturday Evening Post—but it was surely one of the most prestigious and most admired, by readers and authors alike.7

The quality and reach of Scribner’s Magazine are reasons enough—though not the only reasons—for the MJP to undertake its digital edition of the magazine from 1910 through 1922. In the pages we’ve reproduced, you’ll find the first serialized publication of such classic literature as Wharton’s Ethan Frome (August – October, 1911) and the last book of John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga (January – September, 1921). A young F. Scott Fitzgerald also shows up in the MJP edition (two early stories, from May and June, 1920), just on the heels of his wildly popular first novel, This Side of Paradise. Noteworthy among the nonfiction pieces in the magazine are fifty separate items by Theodore Roosevelt, including the bulk of his best-selling African Game Trails (1910). Visually, the magazine is just as impressive. Like its competitors Harper’s and The Century, Scribner’s is amply—even “sumptuously”—illustrated (Lewis 24), and it features the work of the best illustrators of the day—like Jessie Willcox Smith, A. B. Frost, Maxfield Parrish, and N. C. Wyeth—while also publishing full-color art reproductions and striking frontispieces. And the advertisements in the magazine, which usually exceeded a hundred pages per issue, are often as eye-catching as the illustrations.

Besides the magazine’s serious commitment to culture and the arts, there are other reasons for the MJP’s interest in Scribner’s, and one has to do with what it is not: a “modernist” little magazine. As a champion of quality, Scribner’s Magazine, like the little magazines, was reacting—at least since the mid-1890s—against the downward pressure of the slick mass-circulation magazines that sold for 10 cents an issue.8 But as a conservator of cultural value, Scribner’s also sought to protect mainstream quality culture against the avant-garde experimentation and questioning of standards that was increasingly promoted by the little magazines; and in its avowed responsibility to a respectable audience, it sometimes clung to a high-minded genteelism that was being exploded by the more reality-minded little magazines and muck-raking mass-circulation papers. Such fault lines within the culture only become visible when we have examples to compare; so Scribner’s provides us today with an important baseline—and point of contrast—by which we can measure the little magazines’ argument with mainstream culture and trace the public reception of modernism. Where the little magazines mostly sought to define quality apart from market forces, Scribner’s gives us fifty years of the best quality that the market could offer; it also gives us a sense of what a wide swath of intelligent readers from the period regarded as distinguished literature. Readers today may disagree with many of the magazine’s judgments, and Scribner’s steady commitment to “the best,” during a period of turbulently shifting standards, may strike us as quaint or even naïve, especially given how glaringly the magazine sometimes got it “wrong.” But we need to remember that most educated readers in the teens and twenties looked to a prestigious magazine like Scribner’s as a standard for cultural values, not to Blast or The New Age or Poetry. A popular illustrated monthly like Scribner’s remains a valuable artifact for us today precisely because it offers a reliable view of quality culture from this period that hasn’t been passed through modernism’s revisionist lens.

There is a further reason, however, why MJP readers should be especially interested in Scribner’s: the magazine may have been slow to acknowledge the cultural modernism championed by the little magazines, but it did a very capable job of representing the wider modernity of the age—or “modernism” writ large. The magazine offers us today a broad and varied picture of modern America just as the nation was coming into its own as a world power. In its editorial pages, one can chart these many transformations in articles that discuss transportation (aviation, the railways, automobile tours), communication (telephone, radio broadcasting), construction projects (skyscrapers, highways, the Panama Canal), achievements by women (suffrage, education, mountain-climbing, motoring), shifting demographics (immigration), exploration (the South Pole), recreation (baseball, golf), entertainment (the movies), and other features of the modern world—as well as fiction and illustrations about these same topics.

And an equally intriguing view of modernity awaits us in the magazine’s extensive advertising pages. In contrast to the smattering of ads in the little magazines that narrowly address the book trade, the advertisements in Scribner’s are abundant and range across the entire spectrum of modern American life. Here you’ll encounter the soaps, razors, and tooth powders that readers may have used for daily grooming; the foods they ate for breakfast; the pianos and gramophones they turned to for entertainment; the revolvers and rifles they used for sport and protection; the automobiles they saved up to purchase; the pens and “interphones” they used to communicate in the office; the cameras they used to record the world about them. These ads—employing the latest advertising techniques to appeal to their audience—are a testament to a vibrant American marketplace, teeming with products. But they also give us an idea of how the original readers of the magazine experienced modernity, first-hand, as consumers. By affording us (as it were) a glimpse into their household cupboards, the ads in Scribner’s catalogue modern needs and desires—along with the dizzying array of commodities that were produced to satisfy them.

In what follows below, we’ll take a closer look at the magazine and call your attention to those parts of it we think are particularly important and interesting. We’ll begin by providing some background information about Scribner’s that situates the MJP edition in the fifty-year history of the magazine. Then—in sections that will be filled in over time—we’ll discuss: the representation of culture in the magazine, focusing separately on fiction, poetry, illustrations, and art; the business and art of advertising in the magazine; its representation of modernity; its depiction of America, in relation to the rest of the world; and finally its remarkable coverage of the Great War. We hope that the materials we foreground in each of these sections can serve as a springboard for your own exploration of the magazine.


I. Some Background Information about Scribner’s

Unlike most of the magazines the MJP has reproduced, our edition of Scribner’s represents only a small slice—about a quarter—of the magazine’s entire history. Thus, in this section we’ll try to provide some background about the history of the magazine that both precedes and follows the years covered by the MJP edition. We’ll also try to draw out some important aspects of the magazine that are not easily gleaned from the pages themselves.

One such detail is the magazine’s circulation. Anyone who reads Scribner’s today can tell that it needed a wide circulation to sell all the advertising published in each issue; but the actual circulation numbers varied considerably over its fifty year run (see Appendix 1). When the magazine was created in 1887, it had a circulation of about 100,000. Then, during the 1890s and 1910s, circulation generally rose until it peaked, in 1909-1912, at 215,000. At that point, circulation numbers began a steady decline, hitting 70,000 by the mid-twenties, where circulation more or less remained until the late thirties, when it briefly returned to 100,000 just before the magazine folded. Thus, the MJP edition begins (in 1910) with the magazine at its greatest reach, and it ends (in 1923) with circulation at nearly its lowest point, reaching only a third of the readers from a decade before.

The difficulty the magazine had sustaining its circulation over time indicates its ongoing struggle, throughout its lifespan, to compete against the mass-circulation magazines (and, indirectly, against new mass media like movies and radio), which reached a wider audience and could afford to pay authors more. But circulation figures alone do not give an accurate picture of the health of the magazine. Scribner’s continued to attract top talent, even when it could not always pay top dollar, as authors knew their work in Scribner’s would reach a distinguished and influential audience (RB 218); according to Roger Burlingame, the magazine “attract[ed] the attention of all book publishers” and its articles “occasionally even led to diplomatic, governmental or academic appointments for nonprofessional writers” (219). Authors also found publishing in Scribner’s attractive because they saw it as “a vestibule to the House,” with its crack editors and grand reputation, while the House of Scribner’s in turn valued the magazine for attracting new talent and for carrying its name each month into innumerable households (43, 219). This reciprocal relationship between magazine and publisher undoubtedly gave Scribner’s more leeway than other independent magazines had to weather periodic declines in circulation and even thrive when it failed to show a profit in the ledgers.9

Scribner’s relationship with Charles Scribner’s Sons may also explain another curious thing about the magazine: even a close perusal of its pages may not reveal who edited it. In fact, during the thirteen years of the MJP edition, the magazine had two editors: Edward L. Burlingame, who was the original editor of the magazine in 1887 and continued in that position until he retired in 1914; and Robert Bridges (not to be confused with the British poet laureate from the same period), who served as editor from 1914 to 1930. It’s an understatement to say that the magazine was not a showcase for these men’s personalities and opinions. A full-text search for their names in the MJP edition yields fewer than 20 hits for Bridges and only half as many for Burlingame. Likewise, when Burlingame, in May 1914, handed the reins of the magazine over to Bridges, who had been Burlingame’s assistant at the magazine from the start, there is no sign of transition anywhere in the issue, or in how the magazine was subsequently edited.

Given the oversize presence that Harriet Monroe, Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and A. R. Orage had in the little magazines they edited, it seems remarkable that Burlingame and Bridges could fly so completely under the radar, and for so long, in theirs. We might think that the low-profile of the Scribner’s editors is somehow tied up with the larger size of the magazine, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. As Peterson notes, the most successful editors of the big periodicals from the early twentieth century—like Edward Bok of Ladies’ Home Journal—also “impressed their personalities on their magazines” and were “associated in the public mind with the magazines they edited” (120). Like most of these editors, Burlingame and Bridges enjoyed a long tenure at Scribner’s (43 years, all together), which contributed to the magazine’s continuity and stable identity. Yet their lack of visibility in its pages also seems to anticipate the trend, by mid-century, in which the big magazines “became increasingly edited to formula” and the “editor became an anonymous technician, skilled but highly expendable, whose task was to achieve maximum results with the formula.”

This peculiar editorial situation at Scribner’s was likely another result of its functioning as an organ for Scribner’s publishing house—with the magazine and its editor always remaining answerable to the company’s president and the Scribner family. Surely it was good business for the Scribners to ensure that the personality of the magazine’s editor did not interfere with their brand name,10 though they probably could not sustain the magazine’s high quality if they hired a mere functionary to run it. The solution, apparently, was to hire their editors from within the Scribner company, as both Burlingame and Bridges were loyal, long-term staff members before they ran the magazine, with personal relations as well to the Scribner family.

To assess the character of Scribner’s Magazine, we therefore need to know something not only about its editors—whom we will turn to, in a moment—but also about Charles Scribner and the Scribner family. Between 1842 and the 1990s (when Charles Scribner’s Sons became a part of Simon & Schuster and Gale Publishing), five generations of Scribner men—all Princeton graduates—ran the business, along with five distinct Charles Scribners.11 Our concern will be with Charles II, who ran the firm from 1879 until he retired in 1928 and thus had the greatest impact on Scribner’s Magazine. Roger Burlingame describes Charles as a hands-on publisher with a “restless, probing mind” who was impatient with “delegat[ing] authority, mimeographed memos, blanket orders and clean desks” (26, 24). He was also direct to the point of being combative—he “loved and demanded fight” and “could not tolerate yes-men” (26), insisting “on knowing the whole score at any given moment” (25), which apparently caused some of the Scribner’s staff to regard him as being “unreasonable and finicky, capricious and captious” (25). Perhaps in response, Arthur Hawley Scribner, Charles’ younger brother, acted in the firm “as a cushion or shock-absorber between Charles and the staff. You did not take a question to C.S. if you thought there was a chance that A.H. might answer it” (89). Yet Charles Scribner made an effort to know most of his staff (of hundreds) by name, and he would go out of his way to make amends with anyone he felt he had treated unjustly (188, 27-28).

The Scribners were “conservative publishers” (80), and Charles himself was an “ardent Republican” whose “political opinions came to be sought for and valued by the Republican Party” (284-85). This partly explains the firm’s long association with Theodore Roosevelt; but Charles mostly did not let his politics enter his publishing decisions, and his “personal conservatism did not . . . prejudice him against radical writers” like Max Eastman and John Reed, whom he published (290), and later indiscreet writers, like Fitzgerald and Hemingway, whom he published “somewhat to the horror of his contemporaries in the office, including certain editors and several salesmen” (38). Nor were Charles and the Scribners insular: they “travelled widely” in conducting the business of the firm, and “the record is full of English weekends which C.S. or his son spent with George Meredith, John Galsworthy, Rudyard Kipling, and an occasional author . . . who never left England” (43).

Exactly how the editorial staff of the magazine interacted with the Scribner family and the company’s book editors remains somewhat unclear, though a close working relationship is suggested by the fact that many pieces serialized in the magazine were published as Scribner books before the last installment even came out. The magazine editors, like the Scribner family, also travelled the globe on business and “would find and meet their authors at their homes in London and Paris; at dinners in Boston or Washington” (RB 43). We also know that the magazine staff, in New York, were housed on the same floor as the company’s other editors, so it seems that Burlingame, Bridges, and Charles Scribner worked just doors away from each other.12 The Scribner editorial offices were located upstairs in the same Manhattan building that housed the Scribner’s Bookstore at street level. From 1875 to 1894, the Scribner building was located in lower Manhattan, at 743 & 745 Broadway (a few blocks east of Washington Square Park); then the company moved 14 blocks north to a new and bigger building on 153-157 Fifth Avenue (between 21st and 22nd streets, a block south of Madison Square Park and the Flatiron Building today), where they would reside until 1913, when they moved farther north to a new and even bigger building at 597-599 Fifth Avenue (between 48th and 49th streets, just south of St. Patrick’s and Rockefeller Center today), where the firm was headquartered for the remainder of the century (Illustrated Chronology). A big advertisement for Scribner’s can still be seen—when heading north on Fifth Avenue—painted on the brick side of their last residence.

Edward L. Burlingame, who retired in 1914, must have made all three moves uptown with Scribner’s. The son of an abolitionist congressman from Massachusetts whom Lincoln appointed minister to China, Burlingame studied at Harvard, lived with his father for a while in Peking, and eventually got a degree (with a concentration in economics) from Heidelberg before a book project he was working on, William Cullen Bryant’s Popular History of the United States, resulted in his joining the Scribner staff in New York (RB 208-09). Mott describes Burlingame—who became editor of the magazine at age 38—as “enterprising and aggressive but insistent upon literary and artistic standards” (717). Roger Burlingame, who is Edward’s son, credits his father with a cosmopolitan outlook (due partly to his early travels abroad): he could speak “French and German with some fluency” and would “go to Europe almost every summer” during the peak years of the magazine, returning home “from his excursions packed with information about both literary and political trends” (44). In terms of personality, E. L. combined a “gentle temper” with a “formidable exterior”: “Burlingame had an immense, very bushy black beard, high forehead and bald head, severe eyes under large eyebrows, and the erectness of a general” that could intimidate authors before they got to know him (209). Burlingame apparently had a great memory, along with “a fantastic flair” for “catching errors of fact” in manuscripts, and he was “the greatest title-hound” at the firm in his day, responsible for giving George Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days its name (8, 35, 99). He selected both fiction and non-fiction for the magazine, and though he had little patience with authors who were slow to get him their manuscripts, he would “take endless trouble” with any author he believed in (Nourie 461, RB 46, 210).

During Burlingame’s 27 years at the helm, Scribner’s made an effort to promote American writers and published such notable American authors as Bret Harte, Joel Chandler Harris, Henry James, Sarah Orne Jewett, Thomas Nelson Page, and Edith Wharton. Perhaps the most celebrated story published during Burlingame’s tenure was Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” a fictionalized account of Crane’s experiences after a shipwreck off the Florida coast, in June 1897, though Burlingame was oddly dismissive of the author (RB 72, 133). The list of British authors published by Burlingame is impressive as well; they include J. M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Galsworthy—with the last two becoming especially identified with the magazine. Other highlights from Burlingame’s editorship include Jacob Riis’s “How the Other Half Lives” (published in the December 1889 issue of Scribner’s), Theodore Roosevelt’s account of the “Rough Riders” (from the January 1899 issue), and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (serialized in 1905, January through November)—Burlingame came up with that title, too (Mott 723).

By 1910, the magazine had assumed the shape and look it would largely adhere to for the next dozen years. Ever since 1889, the August issue was designated as Scribner’s annual “Fiction Number,” and the December issue was always a festive “Christmas Number.” One-time special issues also appeared on such topics as “Water and Power in Industry” (May 1912) and “The Modern Terminal” (November 1912), while the February issue from 1913 to 1916 focused on the motor car. Averaging 250 pages per issue, the magazine had roughly an equal number of editorial and advertising pages, with the advertisements clearly segregated from the editorial contents—though the ads, split into two sections, also framed those contents, appearing on both the front and back pages of the magazine. The table of contents for each issue was placed on the first right-hand page of the magazine (after the cover), while a “Magazine Notes” section—which appeared toward the end of the front advertisement section until June 1914, when it was moved toward the front of those ads—offered readers short descriptions of contributors and individual items published in the magazine, highlights from previous and upcoming issues, and—when the magazine was running a serial—a short summary of that book up to the latest installment. (In September 1916, a “Book Notes” section was added to follow “Magazine Notes,” apparently to call readers’ attention to new book titles published by the House of Scribner’s; but since the authors mentioned were often not published in the magazine, this section should be regarded as a canny type of advertising—more on that later.)

Readers could easily locate the start of the editorial pages that followed the slew of front advertisements (which could run for 50 pages or more), since they were always introduced by a full-page image that the magazine proudly referred to as the “Frontispiece.” This picture, typically an illustration tethered to one of the articles in the magazine, was frequently a brilliant, colorful image—worthy of framing, if you could bear tearing it out of the magazine. As the only full-color page in many issues, the frontispiece functioned as a beacon signaling the onset of the magazine’s high-quality material. What followed was a well-balanced offering of various kinds of writing—two columns per page—on different topics, loosely alternating between fiction and timely non-fiction. The first item in the magazine could be an article, a story, or even a poem, but there was always a reason for its prominent place—oftentimes it was the latest installment of a popular series (like Roosevelt’s African Game Trails, which appeared as the lead item in the magazine during ten of its twelve installments), or perhaps the first installment of a serialized novel that the editors wanted to introduce to readers. Most stories and many articles were illustrated, with photographs increasingly used for the latter, so a typical issue would have only a few spans of pages with uninterrupted text. Continuous text in the magazine was also broken up by periodic art features offering full-page (and often full-color) reproductions by an artist or illustrator—like Jessie Willcox Smith’s series of drawings depicting characters from Dickens’ novels.

The magazine had only a few recurring departments, and they all appeared toward the end of the editorial section. First in line was “The Point of View,” which addressed each month a variety of literary and other matters. Here, along with “Magazine Notes,” is where the magazine staff came closest to speaking directly to readers; but since the opinions were always unsigned (even when they were expressed in the first person!), the writing in this section seems to be modeling for readers the outlook and style of an ideally urbane subjectivity (that, at least, is one way to construe the title’s oddly commanding article: “the point of view”). Next came “The Field of Art,” signed art criticism and instruction by a rotating set of authors, who drew the field of art quite broadly, with articles on such diverse topics as book-plates, mezzotinting, lithography, sporting prints, mural painting, tapestries, picture frames, Chinese gardens, and taxidermy. Finally, a third department was introduced in 1915, called “The Financial World” (later, “The Financial Situation”), written by Alexander Dana Noyes, that surveyed financial developments around the world, month by month, both during and after the war.

Robert Bridges, editor since 1914, was apparently one of the chief writers of “The Point of View” (Mott 722). He was also very close friends with Theodore Roosevelt, which further explains Charles Scribner’s Sons fast relationship with the president;13 Bridges apparently supervised the publication of Roosevelt’s works at Scribner’s, in both magazine and book form (RB 221-22). Roger Burlingame describes Bridges as a “genial, gregarious” bachelor who lived in the University Club, at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street. A sort of fixture of mid-town, he would walk the five blocks to the Scribner’s offices each day, and each day ate lunch at the Coffee House Club, where a table, reserved for “The Squire,” always stood waiting for him (221). Besides introducing Noyes’ article to the magazine, Bridges promoted “nontechnical publications” about “the new science” and made the magazine more timely and responsive to contemporary events (Nourie 462, RB 224).

It was also during Bridge’s editorship that Scribner’s began to publish the modernist writers that it is perhaps best known for today; that list includes Conrad Aiken, Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle,Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner (“Dry September” in January 1931, “Spotted Horses” in June), Caroline Gordon, Ernest Hemingway (“The Killers” in March 1927, “Canary for One” and “In Another Country” in April 1927, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” in March 1933), Langston Hughes, John O’Hara, and Thomas Wolfe. The magazine also famously serialized Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms in 1929—paying the author $16,000, “the highest fee the magazine had ever paid for a serialized novel” (Mellow 377)—and also Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night in 1934. The serialization of Hemingway’s novel suggests how far the magazine had come in its attitude toward modern letters: once careful not to publish anything that may make readers even slightly uneasy, it now had to defend itself against the charge of indecency when the magazine, containing the second and third installments of Hemingway’s novel, was banned in Boston in June and July (388).

After Bridges’s retirement in 1930, the magazine would be run by two more editors—Alfred S. Dashiell until 1936, then Harlan Logan until 1939. Both men initiated substantial changes to the magazine, in an effort to reverse its falling circulation and loss of market share to the other quality magazines: they adopted new cover designs, experimented with different page sizes, typeface, and paper stock, changed the price of the magazine, appealed to a more youthful audience, published more left-leaning authors, and opened the magazine to more high-brow literature (Nourie 463-64, Mott 729-31). The result was an artistic success: some of the strongest and most memorable writing published by Scribner’s appeared in these years. But quality no longer meant good business, and despite these changes—or maybe because of them—the magazine continued to struggle.14 Apparently unwilling to subsidize Scribner’s any further, Charles Scribner’s Sons sold the magazine to Logan in 1938—and the next year Logan sold it to Dave Smart, who merged the magazine with the Commentator (Nourie 464-65).


II. Culture in Scribner’s: fiction, poetry, illustrations, and art [pending]

III. Advertisements [pending]

IV. Modernity [pending]

V. America and the World [pending]

VI. The Great War [pending]



  1. Charles Scribner III describes the logo this way: “the laurel crown is a symbol of the highest achievement in poetry or literature, or the arts in general, and it is associated with the classical god Apollo; the lamp is not Aladdin’s lamp but rather the lamp of wisdom and knowledge” (37).
  2. The Century actually evolved out of an earlier magazine published by the Scribner’s company, Scribner’s Monthly, which ran from 1870 to 1881.
  3. Peterson says they were called “quality” monthlies “because they addressed an audience well above average in income and intellectual curiosity” (2).
  4. A yearly subscription for Scribner’s was also set at $3, a dollar less than the $4 charged by its competitors (Mott 718). It would remain at that rate until November 1917, when the price per issue was raised to 35 cents.
  5. Charles Scribner, Jr., writes that the “magazine was a double asset to Charles Scribner’s Sons, not only in itself but also as a net for talent” (194).
  6. “Readers of Scribner’s . . . were a solid group, almost a club. They treasured their copies, filed them, often bound them and ranged them on shelves along with their most precious books. They took the trouble to write careful, praising, critical or controversial letters to editor and authors every month. The magazines became required reading in schools and colleges. They were traditions in thousands of homes. The copy on the drawing-room or library table was a mark of distinction for the family. The file became a topical history of national culture” (Burlingame 219). Readers especially proud of their Scribner’s subscription had the option of exchanging their loose copies for handsomely bound volumes of the magazine—50 cents for a blue cloth binding with pearl top, 75 cents for a Buckram binding with gilt top (Scribner’s Magazine 47.1 [January 1910]: adv 108).
  7. In 1912, the magazine was described this way: “Ably edited, representing the best standards interpreted by the most original writers, thoroughly artistic in illustration, Scribner’s Magazine must be counted not only among the publications which belong to periodical literature, but also as an important contribution to permanent literature” (Outlook vol. 100 [Jan. 13, 1912]: p. 65; cited in Mott 723).
  8. In terms of size, we might categorize Scribner’s as an “intermediate” magazine, somewhere between the little magazines and mass-circulation magazines of the period. At its peak, Scribner’s had a circulation of over 200,000, which is large but doesn’t come close to the circulation of its mass-circulation rivals, like Munsey’s (or McCall’s, or Ladies’ Home Journal), any one of which reached more readers than all the quality magazines combined (Peterson 10)—at the turn of the century, LHJ sold for ten cents and had a circulation of a million (Burlingame 216). But even when the circulation of Scribner’s dipped low—around 50,000—it reached many thousands more readers than most of the little magazines ever did; it also shares features with the mass-circulation magazines (like its reliance on advertisement revenue) that sharply distinguish it from little magazines like Coterie or Wheels.
  9. According to Malcolm Cowley: “It was a distinction to be printed in Scribner’s and something of a distinction even to read it. For a long time the magazine had been losing money, but the publishers believed in it and the deficits were always met. . . . as long as Scribner’s had a quality of its own, depending on the type of writing it published, there were people willing to make sacrifices in order to keep it alive” (as cited in Nourie 465). Roger Burlingame recounts how, according to Charles Scribner II, the magazine failed to show a profit in 1915 and 1916 (218), which are not likely the only years it failed to break even.
  10. This may be a lesson that the publishing house learned from its earlier venture with Scribner’s Monthly, whose editors used their relative independence from the parent company to begin their own publishing house (The Century Company) and compete with Scribner’s.
  11. Who’s who among the Charles Scribners can be particularly confusing since Charles IV went by “Jr.” and his son, Charles V, goes by “III”.
  12. Roger Burlingame alludes to the “editorial floor” in the Scribner building during the firm’s “middle years” (89).
  13. Bridges’ relationship with Roosevelt goes far back: in the late 1890s, when Roosevelt had just returned from the war in Cuba, he invited Bridges “to meet him at Sagamore Hill, and after lunch [took] him aside . . . and assur[ed] him that the story of the Rough Riders would go to Scribner’s, though Hearst had offered much more money for it” (Allen 24).
  14. Mott writes that “the effect of [Dashiell’s] new editorial policy on the circulation of Scribner’s was deplorable. The old core of faithful subscribers dropped away, and the new recruits did not replace the deserters fast enough” (730).

Appendix 1: Circulation figures for Scribner’s Magazine (source: Mott)

  • 1887: 100,000 copies of first issue are distributed (718)
  • 1889: paid circulation hits 100,000
  • 1891: average annual circulation is 110,000 (723)
  • mid-1890s: circulation “decline[s] somewhat”
  • end of 1890s: average annual circulation reaches 165,000
  • 1900-1912: “the period of Scribner’s highest circulation”
  • 1909-1911: circulation exceeds 200,000
  • 1909-1910: annual average circulation is 215,000, “the largest . . . in the magazine’s history” (725), perhaps as a result of Roosevelt’s popular series, African Game Trails (Oct 1909 – Sep 1910)
  • 1912-1914: “a decline in circulation had set in” (726)
  • 1912-1920’s: “the downward curve in both circulation and advertising that began in 1912 continued steadily” (729)
  • 19[2]1: “circulation declined to 100,000”
  • 1924: circulation dips to 70,000
  • late 1920s: a short-lived upturn in circulation
  • 1930: “average annual circulation of about 70,000”
  • 1936: “circulation dropped nearly to 40,000” (730)
  • 1937-39: circulation returns to 100,000 (731)

Works Cited

  • Allen, Frederick Lewis. “Fifty Years of Scribner’s Magazine.” Scribner’s Magazine 101.1 (January, 1937): 19-24.
  • Burlingame, Roger. Of Making Many Books: A Hundred Years of Reading, Writing and Publishing. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946. Referred to as “RB” in the body of the essay.
  • “Charles Scribner’s Sons: An Illustrated Chronology.” Website maintained by the Firestone Rare Books Special Collection at Princeton University.
  • Mott, Frank Luther. A History of American Magazines. Vol. 4: 1885-1905. Harvard UP, 1957.
  • Mellow, James. Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
  • Nourie, Barbara. “Scribner’s Magazine.” American Mass-Market Magazines. Ed. Alan Nourie and Barbara Nourie. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990. 458-67.
  • Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1956.
  • Scribner, Charles, Jr. In the Web of Ideas: The Education of a Publisher. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1993.
  • Scribner, Charles, III. “A History of Charles Scribner’s Sons”. From a Lecture Delivered at the Rowfant Club of Cleveland, 11 October 1978. Cleveland: The Rowfant Club, 1985.
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