Top 5 Most Significant Pulp Magazines

This summer, I am thrilled to be working with the pulp magazine collection at the Library of Congress. You might not know it, but you are probably familiar with the pulps. Have you ever heard of Tarzan of the Apes, Sam Spade, or Buck Rogers? All three first appeared in the pulp magazines. Do you enjoy science fiction or like to watch hard-boiled detective movies? Thank the pulps.

The pulps printed tales of adventure, romance, mystery, and the bizarre for a popular audience. Invented in the late nineteenth century, the pulps reached the height of popularity between World War I and World War II. The bestselling pulp magazine titles sold over 1 million copies per issue! The Library of Congress holds over 300 titles and 14,000 copies of pulp magazines.

My first research assignment on the job was to pick my top 5 most significant pulp magazine titles. It was a delightful but an almost impossible task. I attempted to include a variety of the important pulp publishers, authors, and genres. Of course, there are glaring omissions from my list. Not a single Western pulp title made my list.

However, I hope that my list gives some sense of the historical importance of the pulp magazine and its enduring legacy in popular culture.

Without further ado, here is my list, in order of original publication date.

The April 1912 Cover of The Argosy.

The April 1912 Cover of The Argosy.

The Argosy
Founded: 1882-96
Publisher: Frank Munsey Co.

The Argosy was the original pulp magazine and served as “the prototype for all pulp magazines to follow.”[1] Frank Munsey cut costs by printing his all-fiction magazine on the cheapest type of paper possible. The low cost of production allowed Munsey to sell his product to working-class readers for only a dime. Thus, the pulp magazines were born.

Munsey asserted, “The story is more important than the paper it is printed on.” [2] Munsey published all genres of pulp fiction in The Argosy and his 1905 title All-Story magazine. However, he is probably most famous for publishing Edgar Rice Burrough’s serialized adventure novels including Tarzan of the Apes. By the 1920s, Argosy had adopted an all-adventure format. The last issue of Argosy was published in 1979.

 

The September 1929 cover of The Black Mask.

The September 1929 cover of The Black Mask.

The Black Mask
Founded: 1920
Publisher: Pro-Distributors
The Black Mask featured classic tales of tough private eyes and hard-boiled detectives. The magazine arguably originated “the modern mystery story.”[3] Stories by Carroll John Daly, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett took “mystery fiction out of the vicarage and the country home and drop it down on the turbulent mean streets”[4] Hammett published some of his greatest works including The Maltese Falcon in pages of The Black Mask.

 

 

 

 

July 11, 1925 cover of Love Story Magazine

July 11, 1925 cover of Love Story Magazine

Love Story Magazine
Founded: 1921
Publisher: Street & Smith

Love Story Magazine was the first of the incredibly successful romance pulps. Unlike many of the other pulp fiction genres, the romance pulps were created for a primarily female audience. And in contrast to the ‘slick’ women’s magazines, pulp romances were geared towards working-class women not the upper-middle-class.

Founded by the pulp publishing powerhouse Street & Smith in 1921, Love Story attracted over 600,000 readers during editor Daisy Bacon’s reign in the 1930s. Although a typical Love Story ends in marriage, it also typically features an independent leading woman and a proto-feminist attitude. As Bacon said of her readers, “She doesn’t have to marry to get somebody to support her –she can do that herself. And so she considers other things…Why, women are just beginning to know what romance is all about, and how to go after it.”[5]

 

October 1933 cover of Weird Tales

October 1933 cover of Weird Tales

Weird Tales
Founded: 1923
Publishers: Rural Publishers, Popular Fiction Publishing

Weird Tales is a prime example of the horror and fantasy pulp genre. Weird Tales boasted thrilling supernatural stories accompanied by Margaret Brundage’s vivid cover art. Both the stories and the artwork often featured the erotic. Weird Tales notoriously tested decency standards when it published the CM Eddy’s The Loved Dead about necrophilia. The magazine also published classic authors including H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and a young Tennessee Williams.

 

 

 

October 1927 cover of Amazing Stories

October 1927 cover of Amazing Stories

Amazing Stories
Founded: 1926
Publisher: Experimenter Publishing

The founder of Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback was also the progenitor of the phrase ‘science fiction’. Science fiction stories predate 1926, but publishers used a variety of phrases such as “off-trail” or “scientific romance” to describe the stories which were sprinkled amongst the other genres in pulps. Amazing Stories was the first magazine entirely devoted to science fiction, allowing fans to find science fiction stories in one place and helping to define a new genre. Amazing Stories was the origin of enduring characters such as Buck Rogers and sci-fi tropes such as scantily clad space-women.

 

For more on the history of The Argosy, The Black Mask, Love Story Magazine, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, or to pick out your own personal top 5, please visit The Pulp Magazines Project.

[1]Lee Server , Danger Is My Business: An Illustrated History Of The Fabulous Pulp Magazines, (Chronicle Books, 1993), 19.

[2] Peter Haining, The Fantastic Pulps: Twenty-One Tales of Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, and Science Fiction from the

Famous Pulp Magazines of Yesteryear, (Vintage Books, 1976 ), 13.

[3] “Pulp Fiction.” Vintage Library, http://www.vintagelibrary.com/pulpfiction/PulpFictionCentral.php.

[4] Server, Danger Is My Business, 62.

[5] Server, Danger Is My Business, 80.

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