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Collecting Vintage Gossip Magazines

Among my favorite vintage magazines to collect are the gossip rags. While I don’t buy today’s celebrity gossip mags, I find these vintage issues to be very interesting. For one thing, I tend to at least have heard of, or recognize, the celebrities on the covers and headlines — the faces and names on those in the supermarket check-out lanes are virtually meaningless and unrecognizable to me.

But the old magazines, they are familiar…

While I’m not, as mentioned, a big fan or today’s celebrities, I do have a thing for the icons of yesterday. And these publications are full of them. While you can’t trust these old publications to have published the truth any more than you can the mags of today, you can find some photos you’ve never seen before, and read dramas that never were mentioned in celebrity biographies and autobiographies.

For me, it’s much more fun to live vicariously through those icons from the past.

But these old magazines aren’t only about the past.

Just look at the headlines on this October, 1959 issue of Top Secret:

Hypnosis — Secret Weapon Against Overweight

Why Brigitte Bardot Will Never Again Drop That Towel

Does Harry Belafonte Really Want To Be White?

For Sale: 20,000 Babies. Price: $35,000,000.

Now It Can Be Told: How Ike Saved The Life Of Maurice Chevalier!

The Real Inside Story: How Ava Gardner Sneaked 400 Gs Out Of The U.S.A…

The names may have changed over the years but some things never change… Sex, medical claims, race issues, celebrity and government scandals, fear-based “news”, legal issues… Gossip, gossip, gossip.

People haven’t changed much in nearly half a century, so the same issues and inflammatory headlines still work; just change a name or two, maybe update the street price of babies ($35,000,000? That’s a lot of money back now!), change who is suing who, and what’s really changed?

What has changed is the advertising.

With a cover price of just 25 cents, Top Secret and it’s ilk made money in volume — cranking out weekly or bi-monthly issues. Sure, the paper was cheap, more like newsprint than the slick pages of People or even Star, but then they were trying to quickly grind out more gossip for the mongers and rumor for the mills. Cheaper, both in terms of quality and cover price, than issues of Life, Good Housekeeping, Post, Ken, etcetera. the old gossip rags apparently didn’t need as much advertising to produce the magazines because they had far less of it.

Flipping through today’s celebrity publications, you find many ads; so many, they rival more “traditional” or “respectable” magazines. You might think that this is because the gossip business has grown over the years, become much more expensive with the slick paper, etcetera. It could be those things.

It could also be that gossip magazines have grown to become more respectable than they once were. In vintage celebrity gossip magazines, you certainly do find much more risque advertising, sex fulfillment in marriage and Frederick’s ads, mixed in with the business opportunities, Bible fellowship out-reach, weight loss, body building, secrets to winning poker, and other ads for the easily susceptible.

There are a few other ads, toys for example; but they are not filled with the usual ads for food, cars, etcetera. Mainly these old gossip magazines are filled with the ads & offers reserved for the the back pages of other publications.

I’m not in any position to know the complete answer to the differences in advertising. But flipping through, it’s near impossible not to notice how different these magazines are from the more typical magazines.

Vintage gossip magazines are more difficult to find than other magazines. Their rarity is due in part to the cheaper paper, but other things shorten their lifespan.

Certainly then, as now, people quickly devoured their issues, passing them along to friends and/or cutting out photos of their favorite stars, then discarded them for the next issue with the latest celebrity news and gossip.

And I bet more than a few buyers and subscribers threw their issues away due to embarrassment; just like today, few want to keep their guilty pleasures laying around for others to see.

What issues do survive are fun to explore.

It’s fun to look at the past. Not just the celebrities, but to look at “the other side” of life from decades gone by. And to see how our culture still — perhaps even more so — idolizes celebrities.


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DCMerkle I loved your article. I grew up with those magazines. The thing is, the only gossip magazine that I can remember is Photoplay. I know that there were many more. My mother and grand mother would pick them up and read them. There were two others, but for the life of me I can't remember the titles. It would have been though the 60's-70's. Is there a site where I can go to look up old magazines like this? DCMerkle January 8th, 2009 at 5:27 PM

Deanna Dahlsad Hi DCMerkle, Unfortunately it is easiest to know the name, then find the magazine &/or websites. It's how the web works -- but most frustrating for those of us who can't quite remember... (Which is why real world antiques and collectibles shops will always exist; a person to ask and walk you over!) There were quite a few, really. At least I'm still surprised to find new names/publications. But maybe that's because we didn't have them in our house so they doubly fascinate me now. I'll try to upload more of my magazines here at Collectors' Quest to see if those jog your memory (I'll post a note/link here when I've got some to show you). January 8th, 2009 at 6:16 PM

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