I really love what I’ve seen of this old over-sized picture magazine which touts itself as “The Magazine of Knowledge and Education.” A large format title, similar in size to LIFE Magazine, Wisdom first appeared in 1956, typically featuring Yousuf Karsh photos of famed intellectuals and artists on both covers and on the main inside feature.
An example of the subjects of Wisdom can be found in this checklist, found on the inside covers of issue #25:
#1 Albert Einstein
#2 Albert Schweitzer
#3 Bernard Baruch
#4 Winston Churchill
#5 Abraham Lincoln
#6 Jascha Heifetz
#7 Laurence Oliver
#8 Dr. Jonas E. Salk
#9 George Bernard Shaw
#10 Cecil B. De Mille
#11 Helen Keller
#13 The Thinker by Rodin
#14 Bertrand Russell
#15 Artur Rubinstein
#16 Somerset Maugham
#17 Jung, Adler, Freud
#18 Dwight D. Eisenhower
#19 Eleanor Roosevelt
#20 Will Durant
#21 Pope Pius XII
#22 David Sarnoff
#23 Benjamin Franklin
#24 Yousuf Karsh
#25 Pablo Picasso
And since I’ve had #26 I can tell you that was Ernest Hemingway. But how long did the title continue being published, that I did not know. All I knew is I liked it and wanted to know more.
In what was one of the last sources I found about Wisdom, Albert R. Vogeler writes eloquently about the title, and some of the unfortunate events which are covered on this page below. I’ll link to Mr. Vogeler’s document at the bottom of this page when I return to it, but for now we’ll let his eloquent words describe what was Wisdom the magazine:
“An elitist publication (hard covers, opulent large format, semi-annual issues in limited numbers), it nevertheless embodied a populist message (everyone can aspire to wisdom, the great minds of the past speak directly to our generation through their books, and they can make our lives better if we learn how to read them).”
I ran into a bit of a problem trying to determine when Wisdom Magazine died before finally discovering the date was 1964. After coming up empty searching for a tight little history of the title both on my book shelves and online, I decided to Google the publisher Leon Gutterman. To my surprise it appears at least possible that Mr. Gutterman is still going strong as the Director of what is now called The Wisdom Society For The Advancement Of Knowledge, Learning & Research In Education (Wisdom Hall Of Fame). Of course, the business directory page I found is far from official, but adding the 52 years it claims this company has been in business to the 1956 date of Volume 1, Number 1 of Wisdom Magazine we do come out at 2008, which is pretty close. The manta.com directory also tells us that the business is located in Beverly Hills, CA and currently has 2 employees with estimated revenues of $100,000/yr. There’s even a phone number.
But I didn’t find the 1964 date there and I was pretty sure Wisdom Magazine had long ceased publication. The issue I had pulled out to create this post did include the information that “Wisdom Magazine is published monthly by The Wisdom Society for the Advancement of Knowledge, Learning and Research in Education, a non-profit educational and literary organization” (May 1958 issue), and so obviously The Wisdom Society would live on after the magazine ceased publication.
Continuing my search for anything Wisdom or Gutterman I came upon TIME Magazine’s announcement of Volume 1, Number 1 of Wisdom Magazine in the Press section of their December 26, 1955 issue. Wisdom is referred to as a “glossy ‘class magazine for the masses'” and notes Gutterman, age 39 (which would make him 93 today), as an ex-movie press-agent claiming 150,000 subscribers for his new monthly. TIME also reports that Gutterman says he has approximately 100 backers investing $1 million in Wisdom.
What’s funny is that two issues later, January 9, 1956, TIME publishes a letter from Mr. Gutterman complaining about the previous coverage. In all caps, Gutterman writes that he’s “deeply disappointed that TIME’s Dec. 26 story on “Wisdom” Magazine was presented to your readers with such inaccuracy and indifference. Gutterman states that he is not an ex-movie press-agent but was a screenwriter and nationally syndicated columnist. TIME’s editorial team replies that “Gutterman’s own biographical sketch in the Motion Picture Almanac notes: ‘Paramount publicity writer 1941-42. June 1942 appointed publicity director Warner Brothers Radio Division.'”
Hey, you can’t fault the guy for creating another little mention in TIME Magazine at the launch of his own title, well done, I say.
Actually, the IMDb does list a Leo Gutterman as the original author of a 1948 film titled “Smart Women” starring Brian Aherne and Constance Bennett. Note this Gutterman wrote the source material that the script, written by others, was based on. Even with the missing “n” (this is Leo, not Leon), this is the only credit for Gutterman on the comprehensive, though admittedly not perfect, IMDb site.
From there I thought I’d hit a dead end. TIME does not choose to cover the death of Wisdom, and so I thought I’d have to do a little guess work. But I did find a couple of more relevant sources.
Next stop was Oregon State University’s site where they showed off a “Wisdom Award of Honor” made out to Linus Pauling and signed by Gutterman. The library dates this item as 1965. Interesting.
From there it gets more interesting, with this March 12, 1974 Free-Lance Star article “Post Office Frowns on Hall of Wisdom” in which we discover at least 30,000 people have received letters from Leon Gutterson of the Wisdom of Hall of Fame through the mail proclaiming:
“It is a pleasure and privilege to personally notify you that you have been judged worthy of highest honor”
“Based on our evaluation of your impressive accomplishments, you are, to the best of our knowledge, a man of superior intelligence, intellectual attainment, high idealism, personal integrity, excellent reputation.”
“You have been nominated by the Board of Editors and deemed worth of the highest status, highest prestige award of education in America: The Wisdom Award of Honor.”
All you had to do to have your name added to a list featuring the likes of Walt Disney, Cecil B. DeMille, Walter Cronkite and others was send a $100 gift to the Educators and Editors of Wisdom.
The USPS estimated just a 1-5% response rate. The Star writes “In a recently concluded case postal officials found that the so-called Wisdom Board of Editors consisted essentially of Gutterman and one female assistant who combed lists from Who’s Who publications and submitted them to each other for promotional purposes.”
Actually, 2 employees rings a bell from up above.
We also get our end date of 1964 when the Star notes “the magazine actually ceased publication in 1964, only one Wisdom book has appeared, and the encyclopedia is still far from completion.”
The USPS decided against Wisdom and stopped their incoming mail. This document appears to be the USPS’s findings at Wisdom’s appeal.
Of Wisdom Magazine’s death, Albert R. Vogeler, who is also quoted above, had this to say in his document, “Wisdom, Inc.”:
“This glossy “class magazine for the masses” seemed briefly to prosper after its much-publicized founding in 1956, then stagnated, and staggered into financial failure in 1964. It remains to this day on library shelves, an unread relic of a purportedly idealistic publishing venture that was deeply tainted with hubris.”
The Vogeler piece does a great job in explaining how Gutterman’s Hollywood background brought less intellectual subjects such as Cecil B. DeMille and Walt Disney into Wisdom’s mix.
Frankly, I think Wisdom’s past could be called checkered at best, but at the same time I’m all the more intrigued by the title and look forward to handling more in the future.
Ike Ruhnke says
To whom it may concern,
I just uncovered a copy of the first edition.
Can anyone tell me if its worth anything?
Thank you and best regards,
Ed Sharpe says
author – we are on the same quest… contact me. I spoke to gutternam last in the late 70’s
rosemary molloy says
I still remember from 1956 or so the beautiful cover of Albert Einstein on my father’s copy of Wisdom. It has stayed with me all these years and I always wondered what became of the magazine. It could not have been very expensive, as my family had very little money to spend on magazines. I would love to have seen that portrait of Einstein again! Can anyone out there print it? My father was a hardworking sheet metal worker, from Europe, came over as a child, self-educated but so appreciative of knowledge and the creative arts. His interests guided my life, and Wisdom, the magazine, and that first issue, had a lot to do with it.
STEVEN A. WISCOMBE says
To all lovers of Wisdom: I was first introduced to this classic publication in the 60’s by my father who is a writer and philosopher. I have come to love and appreciate what the magazine represents. I own all of the issues. Over the years, I have shared insights from their pages with my children and grandchildren on numerous occasions. Sadly American society was not interested in Wisdom in the 50’s and is probably even less so today. Trashy magazines abound today by the dozens. Many represent the opposite of Wisdom…Folly. If Wisdom were somehow to return…I would be first inline to subscribe. Perhaps the first new issue would picture Martin Luther King Jr. He certainly would have had an issue dedicated to him had the magazine survived. Unfortunately modern America is focused on sports and getting stuff. The carpenter/teacher of Nazareth taught us to seek Wisdom not riches. When I see a classic publication like Wisdom emerge sputter and die…it saddens me. Steve Wiscombe, Tremonton, Ut.
Warren Denning says
To Steve Wiscombe:
My parents gave me a subscription to Wisdom when I was in college in the late 1950s. I remember a quote from Wisdom at that time which I believe to be from Rabindranath Tagore. I will paraphrase it: “Do everything that you do not want to do and you will find that you have done every thing that you wanted to do.” I believe it was in issue #34 with Nehru on the cover. I have Googled it and can find nothing.
If your Wisdom collection is easily accessible and you have the time, I would appreciate if you could check it out for me. This is quite a request from a stranger and I would certainly understand if I do not hear back from you.
Thank you for your time.
Anthony DeJesus says
About 35 years ago, I was visiting a relative in Iowa, and, subsequently, was led to visit the semi-castlelike home of a very wealthy elderly lady. While my uncle was engaged in conversation with this lady, I happen to see a magazine on a table by the name of Wisdom, which looked like it was gold covered. I don’t remember who was on the cover, but I will always remember the article I read about marriage and how it was to be treated with the utmost respect because it was supernatural and could not be successfully navigated without devine help. I tried always to remember this.
Isadoria Chase says
Yes, I agree The Wisdom Magazine is a classic. My uncle had every issue, I believe. He had come from Russia as a small boy with his family and settled in Ohio, then Kentucky. I would like to sell the wisdom mag./ some are hard cover some are not. If interested please contact me. Thanks much.
Donna Goodner (Zink) says
I worked for Leon Gutterman and Betty Jayne Lang for a period of
time helping to produce these magazines. We were on Greg Street,
somewhere off Wilshire. The year was 1969-70. The accountant at the time was a wonderful man by the name of Ernie Beck. I remember Mr. Beck fondly from a piece of jewelry he gave me that I have to this day. I left their
employ after my mother died. I have always wondered what has happened to
these people or whether or not any are still alive? I know the magazines
are out there and are priceless. It was Mr. Gutterman’s life’s dedication
and dream to produce the magazines and the “Wisdom Award of Honor” given
to those special people you are all reading about. If anyone has any
information on the above, please send me an e-mail.
Donna Goodner (Zink)
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks so much for your comment, Donna! I continue to be amazed and impressed at how attached people were (and are) to this fascinating magazine!
Cliff Aliperti says
This post consistently receives the most inquiries as to value … which I do delete. Now I really hate doing that so I suppose it’s time to put some values down in order to answer the question in advance. While Wisdom is a beautiful magazine which still has its fair share of fans it remains very affordable as it’s simply not that old or rare of a magazine.
My own pricing is typically $8-$12 per issue for ordinary editions in average shape.
If the cover topic is slightly more interesting (think Churchill or Lincoln) I go to about $10-$15.
I think the most I ever priced one of these was in the $20 range but it was in spectacular condition.
Please understand these are my retail prices, when I use them I completely expect the item to sit unsold for perhaps months before finding a buyer.
What do I, and other dealers, typically pay? Well, it’s not unusual to see lots of 8-10 issues of Wisdom on eBay for approximately $1 per issue. Depending on condition I couldn’t imagine paying more than $2 per issue and that would be for extraordinary condition.
I hope that comment clears up this question for interested parties. My intention is not to turn the comments section into a trading post, that is for anyone but myself. The alternative to deleting the comments is closing the comments section, and I really don’t want to do that.
If I currently have any Wisdom in stock and for sale you’ll find it on this page of my eBay Store.
I found a stack of Wisdom magazines including the Hemingway Picasso and Einstein issues in my inlaws garage and talked them out of them. I’d say the mention of hubris encapsulated my initial impression. It’s also odd to read the Hollywood press agent use of bombastic superlatives fleshing out what would today be called puff pieces. Also a slavish devotion to celebrity, which the above mentioned subjects were demonstrably not interested in
Hi, I’m looking for these magazines for quite some time. If you are not in need and want to sell the stack, kindly let me know abot it, and also pls let me know the issues which are available with you and respective price.
Cliff Aliperti says
Hi @Abhiskek. Mine have mostly since sold, looks like I only have the DeMille issue left. They come up on eBay every so often, sometimes in lots which makes bulk purchases more affordable. Good luck and if you’re on eBay and want the DeMille feel free to send through an offer.
Brian Lentz says
My closest friend at one time was a man by the name of Peter Drobac. He was on the original staff of Wisdom. Does anyone remember him or know where he is now ?
Carol J. Lewis says
My father and mother were intellectual Negroes and my father would buy the Wisdom magazine and I would read all of them.I loved the size and the beautiful cover photos. This was one of the many things that shaped who my sisters and I are. I long to show to our children and grandchildren. I will also try to do follow up on obtaining a copy.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thank you for your comment, Carol. I’ve found eBay the best spot to find old copies … there’s usually a few showing in the eBay ad I have at the bottom of this article. Thanks again and good luck!
Joseph Germ says
I, too, have always wondered about the end of Wisdom. The following list shows the subjects of each issue #26 through #40. I have most of these. There is a new magazine out there these days called wisdom, but it is a “new age” publication which is “dedicated to opening people’s hearts and minds to the philosophies, products and services of the new millennium.”
26 Ernest Hemingway
27 Arnold J. Toynbee
28 Felix Frankfurter
29 Pear S. Buck
30 William Benton
31 Carl Sandburg
32 Walt Disney
33 Hutchins and Adler
34 Nehru of India
35 Thomas A. Edison
36 John Harvard
38 Robert Frost
39 Jesus and Moses
40 William Shakespeare
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks very much, Joseph, your list is a great help! I’ll update the post to include these shortly.
Nina Minde says
Following a flooding at my cottage I am going through some soggy stuff wondering what to throw out and what might be worth salvaging. Among the items I am wondering about is a very big black binder stamped “Wisdom” and “Volume I, 1956”, containing all 12 issues of that year. Wonderful photographs! The December one is curiously called “special edition”.
If anybody out there is interested in this, I would make an effort to dry it out carefully and let you have it. I live in Montreal, Quebec.
Let me know.
Bill Pritchard says
My dad’s friend gave me the complete set of magazines when I was just a kid. I am pushing 60 years now and still enjoy the articles and marvel at the photography. I hope my grandchildren will enjoy and appreciate them. I have done my best to preserve them in pristine condition.
Cliff Aliperti says
Thanks for adding that, Bill. They really are great magazines!
John Ferreiro says
Does anyone recall a poem probably in the 1957 issue of Wisdom Magazine about a wave that travels a long distance before it reaches a shore and as it crests in all its glory it looks about happily then breaks. I loved hearing a friend read it and thought surely it would be easy to find later. So far, over the years, I’ve not been able to locate the poem. I would appreciate anyone telling me the name or anything about it. Thank you. I loved the magazine and I love poetry.
Dave Rich says
I have nearly the full set, lacking Hutchins & Adler, Walt Disney and William Shakespear. Have two editions of Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Jesus.
As well as the Volume 2 1957 binder. Willing to sell entire set.
Please make offer.
Judy Karstens says
I have Volume I 1956, with all the copies intact. They are dusty and a little aged, but in good shape. My great uncle subscribed to these. He was also an immigrant. He gave the volume to my father who was an English professor. I was very intrigued by the pictures when I was a little girl.
I’m moving and would like to have someone who appreciates them have them.
James S Russell says
I have a certificate from The Wisdom Society for a “Wisdom Award of Honor” conferred upon my Grandfather, retired professor of marketing from the University of Illinois, Frederick A. Russell, b. June 22, 1886. The certificate has a seal listing the company name and incorporation in California, dated November 6, 1957. It is signed by Leon Gutterman. My grandfather received the award in 1970, when he was 84. I suspect he responded to a letter notifying him of award of his honor and requesting a check to cover expenses awarding him a certificate.
I have #23, #19 and Jesus and Walt Disney.
Cindy Miller says
I have three copies: #10 Cecil B. De Mille, #23 Benjamin Franklin, #36 John Harvard.