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Saturday Evening Post

Started by Richard, May 29, 2008, 12:40:32 PM

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In the days before television, and to a certain extent before radio, and certainly before the internet, the great unifying voice of any nation was its mass circulation magazines. In Australia, it was The Bulletin, recently deceased and The Australian Women's Weekly, Britain has a rich group of these still surviving and the US had The Saturday Evening Post. Wikipedia's entry on this great institution is interesting enough but there is no information on production issues such as where was it printed, using what resources. What was it paper consumption and circulation?

The are difficult questions but someone in your eclectic readership might know or like to share memories.

I've added a link to the Wikipedia article - Admin



My recollection is Look was more likely to be gravure in whole or part whereas SEP looked like letterpress. Look started in 1937 and relied more on photography: SEP was known and valued for its cover artwork. SEP's history is much longer than Look as it claimed ancestry going back to Benjamin Franklin. Having the market pretty much to itself in the early days, I suspect SEP's circulation was higher at its peak although it trailled Look later on.

Communications being more primitive and, being a weekly circulating in a large country, I suspect it must have been at the cutting edge of technology given book size and the large amount of quality advertising it carried.

Thanks for the tip about Sun Engraving. Richard

Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

Hear, hear and allow me add my 10 or 15 cents worth.

I had understood for as long as I can remember that The Saturday Evening Post was the brainchild of printer, publisher, statesman, inventor and entrepaneur Ben. Franklin  --  though I have never tested the veracity of my information,  taking it on faith because it was contained in the hallowed pages of the Inland Printer which I as a youth and a young man regarded as the epitome of truth and wisdom. 

The Post itself had a woodblock style profile of the aforementioned Ben. F. at the top of the contents page, about page 3 on the example before me.

I would imagine that the periodical passed through many owners and transformations until eventually, in its last great days as a viable and influential publication, it became part of the impressive collection of magazines that were part of the Curtis Publishing Company being purchased by Cyrus Curtis in 1897  for the sum of $1000. Another notable magazine from that collective that easily comes to mind was Harper's Bazaar and of course there was The Ladies Home Journal.

Curtis Publishing was a huge, larger than life concern - the Microsoft of weekly and monthly magazine publishers.

All Curtis' printing was done by the letterpress process.  No gravure or lithography - in fact I had read that if a Curtis executive even expressed an interest in an alternative process he was asked to leave.

Curtis designed and built their own presses - thought to be the best and most reliable machinery for multi color rotary letterpress of their time.

The presses needed a most consistant supply of specialist paper to enable the print combine to produce its many publications, so that Curtis had its own paper mills and owned associated concerns to make a product exclusively for its own use.

Curtis was enormous,  a mammoth that towered above most others when letterpress was king.  I can recall reading an article with an associated aerial picture of the plant covering an area far greater than an entire city block.  It was however,  an inflexible dinosaur doomed to extinction.

On the subject of circulation for SEP I believe that the peak number of circulated copies of 6,652,000 was reached in 1962

Curtis' design and the appearance of its many publications was sound but conservative in both jouralistic and advertising fields. It had not altered typographically since the early years of the 20th Century and the changes to illustrative matter paid lip service only to what was to be seen in popular fashion.

The rapidly improving quality and public acceptance of offset in the 50's and 60's and the velvety brilliance of top glossy gravure publications became economically competitive as the production runs on the American continent got longer owing to increasing consumer demand for brighter and more daring reading to compete with the rising inroads into the information and entertainment market by television  and high budget motion pictures.

So Curtis collapsed, bankrupt in the 1970's and with it publication of The Saturday Evening Post, Harpers' Bazaar, The Country Gentleman and Jack and Jill ceased  --  to name just a few.  I understand though that The Ladies Home Journal, published now by another company, still dominates at supermarket checkout racks.

I have early memories as a tot of walking the block from home to the newsagent with my father to pick up his ordered copy of SEP -  this  just before the start of WW2 during which I suppose supply of imported publications into Oz generally stopped until 1946 or so when I remember seeing the familiar masthead again and with the benefit of a few years of growing, better appreciated what was within..

There is but one copy of SEP left in the 'Cave', dating from August 2, 1958 - price 15ยข. This one with the later Bodoni Bold heading and cover by Alajalov. The content, as could be expected, is very pro-US especially when viewed retrospectively fifty years on.

The SEP was a pleasant slice of history for those of us old enough to have experienced and been part of,  to be remembered kindly and with affection.


Dave Hughes

Here's a couple of Evening Post covers, from the WW2 era:

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Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

Right Ho then -

If we are going to talk about and show SEP cover art then someone surely has some opinions concerning the work of Norman Rockwell.

The top cover of the two Dave just posted, if you hadn't noticed, is a Rockwell



The cover art almost became more important than the magazine itself. Then of course there were the advertisements. Colour was far less common than it is now and because of the reliance on artwork rather than photographs, the advertisements were able to illustrate a somewhat fictitious, Andy Hardy view of middle America.

The car advertisements were particularly professional. I came across a website some years ago which showcased these in large format but a quick search has not been able to locate it.




It is reported the Saturday Evening Post began in 1821, but that is not far enough back for Ben Franklin printer, Founding Father, inventor and kite flyer. It is claimed, however, that  Saturday Evening Post started up in the same print shop where Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette began in 1728.

If memory serves me, I believe my first contact with SEP was at Sydney's Central Station in late 1940s when I was looking for something to read on the train to Wagga. I do know what attracted me was a Norman Rockwell cover. Since then I have been a confirmed fan of Rockwell's whimsical paintings. Later in the mid 1950s when I was working at the Sydney Morning Herald I would often stop by the station to pick up a copy of  SEP. Being a country boy I particularly liked to follow the adventures of a salesman for Earthworm Tractors, which featured in the magazine at the time.

The only souvenir I have of SEP is a book of Rockwell's paintings, which contains a number of SEP covers.

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Dave Hughes

Probably the most famous illustration that Rockwell did was "Rosie the Riveter" which appeared as an Evening Post cover:

Although this image is often mistaken for Rosie the Riveter:

All is explained on this website:

If you've got some time to spare and want to take a look at all of Rockwell's Evening Post covers, and some other work, look here:
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Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

A bit of extra hunting around turned up a little more trivia  concernung Norman Rockwell and his association with SEP.

His first cover illustration for that magazine graced the front of the issue of May 20, 1916 and all in all he created a total of 321 covers for them.

In later years, when an issue carried a Rockwell cover it was usual for an extra 50,000 to 75,000 copies to be required on the newsstands to cope with demand.


Dave Hughes

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This thread has wandered (quite happily) from its original intent.

I have

(a) The Story of the Times by Oliver Woods and James Bishop, (2 references to Lintotype in 380 pages - when it came in and when it went out);

(b) The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family behind the New York Times (No references to Linotype in 830 pages); and

(c) Company of Heralds (The Sydney Morning Herald) by Gavin Souter (2 references to Lintotype in 640 pages - when it went out)

Production  issues don't get much of a look in when the history of these iconic publications is written, so why should the Curtis Publishing Empire be different?

They also serve who labour in the engine room...

Dave Hughes

I agree. When the history of publications is written, it's generally the "scoops" and famous stories that feature strongly. Production issues take a back seat.

In Marmaduke Hussey's biography (famous London Times editor) he chose to have his picture taken in front of an Intertype Monarch (guess it looks more impressive than a typewriter!)

The only mention of production issues is negative (strikes, greedy printers, etc.)
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We can wonder, as I do, that a device as complicated as a typesetting machine could work its magic outside the laboratory much less in print shops and newspapers in countries all over the world at various stages of economic development.

If that level of functioning complexity intrigues, check out to see how they met the challenge of printing and distributing SEP each week so as to reach its goal of all subscribers receiving their copies on the same day as newsstands. While today holiday postcards as still typically taking a month to reach their destination at least in Australia. It is no wonder the Curtis stable collapsed when much of the production as[ects can now be done on consumer laptops. Consider the number of people involved in distributing the content. All those jobs gone; are they mourned?

Those living in NSW have free online access to original copies of the SEP through

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