My Portal to History

Confession time.

I fancy vintage ladies’ and how-to magazines.

I don’t mean I simply like to look at the interesting covers or occasionally peruse an online copy (which I do).

No, it’s a bit more involved than that.

A few years ago, when my family and I lived in Tennessee, I went a little crazy. We had sold a recently renovated house, and I designated a modest (certainly not reckless) amount of money to an extravagance(s) of my choice.

My daughter and I had attended the Nashville Flea Market a few times and, as a result, I was the proud owner of a nifty, albeit small, collection of vintage magazines, and I loved reading them. So, the choice was crystal clear: I would earmark most of my profit to the accumulation of vintage magazines.

My game plan was simple: I would wander through the many interesting antique malls and shops in the area, buying only those magazines reasonably priced (and individual issues tended to cost much more than I was willing to pay). But things started to get interesting after I exhausted my options locally and realized I would have to act globally. Well, in my case globally meant nationally. You see, I discovered the world of online shopping for vintage magazines via Ebay.

I had been shopping on Ebay for years, so the site was not new to me. But a quick search told me that many of the vintage magazines on the site were sold in “lots.” And more often than not, buying the magazines in lots would prove to be much cheaper than buying them individually (which is a kind of “duh” moment, I guess). And that pivotal instant—when I calculated that each magazine in a lot (and considering the shipping, of course) would actually cost a mere two or three dollars—was my undoing.

Whenever I won an auction, I told myself that the purchase was an investment. At some unknown time in the future I would resell the magazines—on Ebay, of course—and this kept any negative self-talk at bay.

My husband, afraid that my initial enthusiasm had intensified, pointed out to me that my procurements had become a habit (as he so nicely put it) and suggested I suspend any future purchases of vintage magazines in order to take inventory (of my acquisitions, but I think he also meant inwardly). This activity, he reasoned, would ensure that duplicate purchases would be avoided.

His subtlety was not lost on me, and I immediately did as he suggested. To my surprise, I discovered that I had amassed hundreds of magazines. But they were not all purchased through Ebay. That year we traveled to Michigan, and I spent several hours roaming the local antique shops and flea markets. Occasionally I would discover large bins of vintage magazines for sale, all in varying states of totality, and the amazingly low prices were too tempting to pass up.

So, as I waded through my patchwork of magazines, I was grateful that I had just barely exceeded my self-imposed quota. I still believed that I would resell them on Ebay someday (I haven’t), and to protect my investment I placed each one in specially sized bags. We have moved my collection twice (from Tennessee to Florida, and from Florida to Michigan), and each time I pack and unpack the boxes I silently berate myself for succumbing to my “habit.”

But all is not lost as I am happy to report that I have read perhaps half of my stash, and each time I open a magazine I am transported back in time. I have had the pleasure of reading wildly imaginative and beautifully written short stories, countless ads for products that treated gingivitis, and untold Jello and “tongue” recipes. I have studied several articles on how to build Danish-style furniture (w00t!), painting houses (with lead paint!), the wonders of asbestos siding (as a fire retardant and insulation!) and creating basement “rumpus” rooms. I love history, and reading each issue satisfies my craving for all things historical.

My shopping blitz has given me loads of reading pleasure, and whenever I have an hour or two, I pull out a 1919 House Beautiful, a 1929 Better Homes and Gardens, a 1942 Redbook or a 1968 McCall’s.

I would be open to selling many of my magazines, but until I find time to organize and list them, they are housed in the used over-sized dresser we bought last year. They are my portal to history, and I treasure each one.

Featured Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash.

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