Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Joy of Obscure Journals

The Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book 1932, in its bright red covers, was one of those old reference works that I suspected would be full of interest when I chanced upon it, and I was not disappointed.

After the adverts for writing schools (‘The Quill Club’, ‘The Authors’ Aid Service’) and secretarial bureaus (‘The Queen's Secretarial College for Gentlewomen’), there is a directory of over one thousand Journals and Magazines in Britain, with contact details, what they cover and what they pay. I have always been a subscriber to, and collector of, obscure journals, from matchbox-collecting to mazes, island postal services to inn signs, antiquarianism and antinomianism, and much more, so I naturally wondered what periodicals would be on offer in 1932.

The listing starts with the Aberdeen Press and Journal and The Accountant and breezes on for 108 pages until we arrive at The Young Adventurer and Friendship (sixpence; Mrs Ruth Knowles, Ramhurst Manor, near Tonbridge, Kent; ‘personal adventures in all parts of the world, and funny poems’) and Young England (founded 1880, six shillings annually, ‘for boys of the educated class’). I was a bit disappointed not to find any journal beginning with Z. The Zoist? The Zookeeper’s Gazette? Zodiac, for star-gazers everywhere? Zoroastrian Studies? Zounds, for swashbuckling yarns? Surely some gaps in the market there.

The staples of the listing are trade papers, comic papers, sporting, children’s and women’s magazines. Some of the trade magazines may now seem rather specialised. Who would have supposed there would be a Box Maker’s Journal (founded 1898), ‘devoted solely to the Paper Box and Carton Making and the Packing Industries’? But in fact it had a rival: Paper Box and Paper Bag Maker, ed G. Stuart Don, paying one guinea per 1,000 words. It seems a pity neither used the title Boxing Clever, but perhaps it was a serious-minded trade. The India Rubber Journal (1885) edited by W.A. de B. McLaren at Shoe Street, E.C.4, also sounds highly specialised, though admittedly it does stretch to gutta-percha too.

Some of the titles sound most promising. Who could resist The Startler edited by Rex Haydon, for boys aged 9-16 years (and, we might suspect, some quite a lot older)? This cheerfully admits it offers stories that are ‘for the most part far-fetched . . . a boy who starts a private police station of his own; the cowboy who always uses a catapult; the boy who rides the seas on a shark’s back’. It certainly seems to live up to its title, but what became of it? When I searched for it, I was offered instead The Tatler (‘prominent social people’), not at all the same kind of thing.

If The Startler was not exciting enough for you, there was always The Thriller, which asks for stories of 25,000 words ‘dealing with crime, of the variety now known as “Thrillers”’, which implies that the term was fairly recent. It adds: ‘They must be full of quick action, sensational, and dramatic: but horrors or shockers are not wanted.’ Whether there were any magazines that did want horrors or shockers does not appear, though possibly not the Family Herald or Fairyland Tales. And certainly not the Happy Mag (1922): ‘bright, cheerful short stories only wanted. Nothing heavy or gloomy . . .’ Not the place to look for Hardy’s latest, then.

Even The Red Magazine, to which I think some genre writers did contribute, issues a stern warning: ‘Stories which play on the morbid, sex, or brutality, are not wanted . . . Writers should remember that healthy-minded women form the greater part of the magazine-reading public’. Which rather makes you wonder what the unhealthy-minded women read . . .

In searching for esoteric journals I found only three or four. Admittedly, I might have missed some masquerading under an innocuous title. Perhaps the Box-Maker’s Journal had hidden depths. But otherwise the esotericist of 1932 had to make do with The Aryan Path, a theosophy journal; Beyond, a Spiritualist journal; and The Occult Review (‘devoted to the investigation of supra-normal phenomena and the study of the truths underlying all religious beliefs’).

There might, however, be some promise in the Expository Times, edited by A W Hastings M.A. and Rev Edward Hastings M.A. from Edinburgh, or in Proteus edited by W.B. Crow, D.Sc., devoted to ‘osteopathy, chiropractic, naturopathy, physiognomy, dream analysis, astrology, herbalism and physio-philosophy.’ Dr Crow was the author of books on the occult significance of precious stones, and on the science of dreams.

Although there were several almancs in circulation, including at least three versions of Old Moore's, there was then no specific astrology or fortune-telling periodical: Prediction, which was to become a popular news-stand glossy for horoscopes and star signs, did not start until 1936.

The Beyond listing notes tersely that it wants ‘True psychic experiences but no dreams nor visions induced by hysteria or weak digestion’ and adds, rather wearily: ‘No “inspired” writing, nor spirit messages from Buddha or Napoleon.’ Even so, I think they may still have left themselves open to astral emanations from Cleopatra’s cat.

The year book also lists overseas journals in English, and then offers listings of publishers. Among these are Foulsham of Red Lion Court, publisher of almanacs, and L N Fowler & Co of 7 Imperial Arcade, Ludgate Circus, ‘Works on Phrenology, New Thought, Occultism, etc’. They also produced ceramic phrenology heads, and poster size phrenology charts. I should have thought that by 1932 phrenology was no longer en mode, but evidently Fowler thought otherwise. 

Perhaps there is still a little shop in Imperial Arcade frequented by phrenological diehards. As you enter through the creaking door into a restful gloom, the grey-bearded denizen will look up, start, peer at you carefully through his half-moon glasses, mutter ‘most remarkable’, and ask if he might feel your bumps.

(Mark Valentine)


  1. Wonderful article; a fun read. Loved the "no sex, please, we're British" overtones. But no publications devoted to dowsing, ley lines, ritual animal disguise or Druidic lore, sadly.

  2. "Do let me have another look at that gentleman’s organs." - Charles Lamb