An Up and Down History of Collier’s Magazine from Founding to Demise

Collier’s Rise and Fall Followed by a Rebirth and Demise

Collier’s, founded in 1888 by Peter Finley Collier, would experience many ups and downs throughout it’s history, peaking as an important muckraking magazine in the first decade of the twentieth century and then again as a serious rival to the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920’s through the 40’s.

It’s origin was a little different than most of the other magazines. Peter Collier was a Catholic book salesman who left the company he worked for in 1875 to form his own book subscription service. This move led to the formation of the company P.F. Collier’s and Son. In 1888 he published his own magazine called Once A Week which would be renamed Collier’s Weekly in 1895.

Collier’s first breakthrough would be in photojournalism when it sent photographer Jimmy Hare to Cuba with writer Stephen Crane in 1898 to cover the war. Hare’s photos would be a big part of the magazine’s success at the beginning of the twentieth century. At this time Collier’s son, Robert, was editor. Robert would later take over as publisher upon his father’s death in 1909.

Collier's Magazine February 15, 1919The first major editor of Collier’s would be Norman Hapgood who was hired in 1903 and stayed on until he left for Harper’s Weekly in 1912. Hapgood was in charge during the prime muckraking years. This movement began at Collier’s when Hapgood bought a report through Edward Bok, editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, aimed against patent medicines and turned it into a year-long series by Samuel Hopkins Adams called “The Great American Fraud.” This, coupled with publication of “The Jungle” author Upton Sinclair’s article “Is Chicago Meat Clean”, is credited with leading to Congress passing the Pure Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act, both in 1906.

After the death of Robert Collier in 1918, P.F. Collier and Son was willed to three of his friends before being sold to the Crowell Publishing Company in 1919. Crowell would rename itself Crowell-Collier and remain publisher through the magazine’s demise in 1957. But Collier’s appeared ready to die as soon as the early 20’s.

Issues had shrunk to around twenty pages and in some cases even less. Two new editors, Richard Walsh and Loren Palmer, were brought in and introduced some new features including the short-short story, but the magazine would not make major strides until 1925 when William Ludlow Chenery came on as editor.

Collier's Magazine March 21, 1914 issueChenery tabbed Charles Colebaugh as managing editor and together they would publish a magazine which included some features but was filled mostly with fiction along with what would become some of the most famous and respected cartoons in magazine history. It was under Chenery that Collier’s enjoyed its greatest success, rivaling the Saturday Evening Post throughout his tenure as the most popular publication in the mass market.

Re-invented, with muckraking left behind, Collier’s published fiction by giants such as Sinclair Lewis and Willa Cather, but became more known for Zane Grey westerns and Fu Manchu serials. Picking up their outstanding heritage of war coverage begun with Crane and Hare and continuing with coverage from the front lines of World War I by Ring Lardner, during World War II Collier’s published one of the first American articles about concentration camps, “Polish Death Camp” by Jan Karski.

Collier’s decline would come quickly beginning after the war when Colebaugh died and Chenery retired. Even without Chenery they would have a circulation over 4,000,000 at the time of their demise, but the popularity of television would cut too deeply into ad revenue and they could no longer cover the cost of production and distribution. Collier’s switched from being a weekly to a fortnightly publication in 1953, but it still would not survive past 1957. Unlike several of their rivals, such as LIFE and the Post, Collier’s would not return at a later date. 1957 was the end.

As collectors we have a wide variety of issues to be interested in. Besides collecting the important editorial contributions of Collier’s during the Spanish-American War and both World Wars we can target some of the fiction already mentioned plus others such as Sherlock Holmes pieces by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We can hunt down the important muckraking articles from just after the turn of the century by those mentioned as well as other famous journalists such as Ida Tarbell. And then there is always the cover art. Collier’s had a rich tradition of high quality covers by legendary artists beginning with Charles Dana Gibson, through Frederic Remington, Maxfield Parrish, F.X. Leyendecker, Arthur Szyk and several other artists.

It’s really a great publication to target from it’s inception through the second World War and the Chenery years.

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