Wrappers and no wrappers…

October 1, 2009 by  
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Monthly_Review_1As regular customers have noticed, our only foray into the world of magazines is pretty much limited to 18th century titles. Magazine collecting of the 19th and 20th centuries is a world onto itself and there are many other dealers who make such items their specialty. I never felt a need to venture there.

Occasionally one will see our listings of magazines which note “with original wrappers” and perhaps wondered what this meant. Most magazines which were sold “on the street” came with a wrapper, or front and back cover, which was in addition to the typical title page of the magazine. Typically the wrapper would have a blue or blue-green tint. Some wrappers had a decorative embellishment and some had the table of contents. The reverse side of the front wrapper and both sides of the back wrapper commonly had advertisements, often for books or other publications offered by the printer.

But magazines with wrappers are rarely found. At least 98% of the 18th century magazines on the market today came from bound volumes. The volumes were created when libraries–whether personal or institutional–had an entire year’s edition of a title bound into book form for efficient storage & display on a bookcase. And many magazine publishers set aside extra copies of each month’s edition for binding and sale to patrons at the conclusion of each year. Since wrappers were considered superfluous they were almost always removed from the issues before being bound. The binding process also involved trimming the three exposed margins for a neater appearance. Consequently when loose issues became available to collectors centuries later through library deaccessionings, they were lacking the wrappers.


Those fortunate enough to find a magazine which survived the last several centuries without being bound may experience the great pleasure of having a magazine “as issued”, or with the wrappers intact and without the margins trimmed. Such find are quite rare.

I have discovered many over the course of the last 33 years, and have even had the pleasure to find an occasional bound volume of an 18th century title with the wrappers bound in, either with each of the monthly issues or grouped collectively at the back of the volume. Such wrappers would have trimmed margins, which is less then ideal, but wrappers with trimmed margins are far better than no wrappers at all. And perhaps in just one or two instances I encountered a volume with wrappers bound in and margins untrimmed.

In any case, magazines with wrappers intact are the goal for serious collectors of 18th century magazines. Not surprisingly such issues command a premium price, but their rarity also creates a high level of desirability.

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One Response to “Wrappers and no wrappers…”

  1. Charles Signer on October 2nd, 2009 4:46 am

    I am basically a newspaper collector, but sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between a newspaper and a magazine. The Independent Reflector of the early 1750s comes to mind. I have a book by a collector of magazines which lists that title and John Peter Zenger’s New York Weekly Journal as magazines. Some magazines like Frank Leslie’s called themselves “illustrated newspapers.” I don’t think I could do without some of the great Harper’s Weekly issues of the Civil War, which are in the same format at Leslie’s.

    Magazines can fill gaps in a newspaper collection, especially after the introduction of wood pulp newsprint. A lot of newspapers covering the Spanish-American War are brown, brittle and very fragile, but magazines in nice condition with nice illustrations of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders are found. They tend to be more readily available since more were preserved. Many newspapers of the late 19th century, if they hadn’t already disintegrated, were recycled during World War II paper drives.

    Magazines with illustrations can also brighten up a newspaper collection that is mostly devoid of pictures. For this reason I also like to collect a few maps.

    It is nice to have the original wrapper on an 18th century magazine, but they are often missing, as are illustrated plates. I am basically a newspaper collector in part because missing covers and plates do not arise with newspapers.

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