Collecting Vintage Movie Magazines: Featuring Photoplay

One of the things I’d like to do to complement my love of old movies is to start a movie memorabilia collection. I have to admit though that I’ve been dragging my feet on that lately. Eager to get started in some way, I decided to start by collecting a few vintage movie magazines.

There were many movie fan magazines published during the golden age of Hollywood including Photoplay, Silver Screen, Modern Screen, Motion Picture, and Movie Mirror Magazines, and you can still find copies of many of them on eBay. Magazines sold for as little as 10 cents when they were first published, but today can sell for as much as $100 or more depending on who is on the cover or how rare the magazine is.

The first magazine I decided to buy is a copy of Photoplay magazine from February 1946 featuring Ingrid Bergman on the cover. Although verifying whether the magazine is in mint condition before buying is important for serious collectors or for those who may want to sell their collections in the future, I wasn’t as concerned about condition this time. I thought it might be a good idea at first to check out a few different magazines to compare the type of content in each before buying issues that are worth more. I purchased this particular issue for $9.99, which is on the lower end for vintage movie magazines.

Photoplay was a movie fan magazine that was founded in 1911 and reached its peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s as fans became increasingly interested in the private lives of celebrities. Early in the magazine’s history, it was known for its artwork portraits of film stars on the cover, but once color photography was perfected around 1937, photographs of the stars were used on the covers instead.

Photographer Paul Hesse

The photo of Ingrid Bergman that is on the cover of the issue I purchased was taken by Paul Hesse, a photographer who was one of the pioneers of color photography. By the late 1930’s, Hesse had become known as one of the best commercial photographers in New York, and he traveled to Hollywood several times a year to shoot photos of movie stars for Photoplay magazine and for national advertising campaigns. The dress Ms. Bergman is wearing was designed by one of the most the popular costume designers at the time and one of my personal favorites, Edith Head.

In 1920, Photoplay started to give out what is considered the first significant annual movie award, the Photoplay Medal of Honor, which was later changed to the Gold Medal. The award was voted on by the readers of the magazine and given to the producer of the year’s best film. The award was briefly discontinued in 1939 as it had started to decline in importance but was brought back in a new format in 1944. Awards were then given for both the film of the year and the most popular stars, which were determined by the Gallup Poll company.

I didn’t learn about this until after I purchased a copy and was happy to discover that the issue I bought features the award winners for 1946. The most popular stars in 1946 according to the results of the Photoplay Gold Medal award voting were first time winner Ingrid Bergman and for the third year in a row on the male side, Bing Crosby. The award for most popular motion picture went to The Bells of St. Mary’s.

Photoplay is a must read for those who love to look at old advertisements, both for commercial products and for movies that were being released at the time. The issue I purchased contained dozens of ads, many of them in color and most of them for products that would appeal to women such as makeup, hair and skin products, and fashions. It also contained movie reviews, personal stories about big name stars such as Joan Crawford, Robert Taylor and Dana Andrews, and several vivid color photographs of other movies stars of the time. I’m looking forward to purchasing and reviewing issues of a few other old movie magazines and learning more about the best ways to preserve a magazine collection while sharing those tips with you.

Do you collect vintage movie magazines?  If so, what are some of your favorites?


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16 Responses
  1. Nancy Hodgson says:

    I am 70 yrs old, and in the 1950′s I subscribed to Photoplay movie magazine. When I was 15 I wrote a poem about Marlon Brando and sent it to Photoplay. It was published in the “Readers Inc.” section, and it also had a small picture of him near my letter! I would love to find that magazine, as my mother threw out all my magazines and comics when I went to college! So, if there is anyone out there that might have that magazine, I would love to buy it. It was either 1954 or 1955, and am not sure who was on the cover. Thank you for any input or help on this! Loved my movie stars and magazines of that great era!!
    Nancy in Dallas

    • Jac cadman says:

      I have the magazine, just found it in my mother in law’s attic-was your maiden name Boswell? Jason 01269 596169 uk wales

  2. Ginny says:

    Hi Nancy, it sure would be nice if you could find that issue! Maybe you’ve tried this already, but if you search for either “1954 Photoplay Magazine” or “1955 Photoplay Magazine” on eBay, you can see various covers from those years. I thought maybe seeing them might refresh your memory as to which issue it is in. Or some eBay sellers allow you to ask questions before you buy from them so perhaps you could ask if they are able to look for your poem in the issues they are selling. Maybe one of my readers will be able to help you, too. Good luck in your search!

  3. sharon says:

    Hi there, Ginny….In 1946, I supposably won a baby beauty contest sponsored by Photoplay Magazine. I am interested in seeing my photo in this magazine, particulary if I am sitting with my mother. My mother died soon after this contest, and I would love to see either my photo or my mother’s.

    Do you have any knowledge about this ? I would appreciate knowing it if you do. Thanks! Sharon

  4. Ginny says:

    Hi Sharon, unfortunately I do not have any knowledge of that contest. I tried finding some information on Google but could not come up with anything. I thought maybe I’d find something in the issue that I have since the awards I mentioned were for 1946, but I realized it is actually from early 1947. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help! I hope you are able to find it somehow.

  5. Bill Calvert says:

    When a neighbour died, her husband found a cache of complete Photoplays of the 20′s and 30 in perfect condition … He gave them to me and I thought they belonged in a museum, so I rang to donate them to The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia … the offer was met with total indifference, but three days later I received a call from a curator who was most definitely interested … so there they are, probably sitting in the stacks. I didn’t care if they were valuable, I just wanted them preserved. I read the lot, and the highlight for me, apart from the beautiful lithographed covers, were the ads for Triletty cosmetic aids for tapering fingers, tightening necks and re-shaping noses … absolutely hilarious classics.

  6. Michael allen says:

    I had found some old photoplay magazine stored in a box in my garage. They are from 1916 and 1917. I was wondering if you know how much they are worth or a website i could check. Thank you

  7. stephen fouraker says:

    I was wondering too if there is someplace to find the value of my old Photoplay magazines?

  8. Ginny says:

    Stephen, I don’t know of any one site where you can find definite values since they can vary quite a bit depending on things like who is featured on the cover and the condition of the magazines. There is a book called “Antique Trader Vintage Magazines Price Guide” that could possibly be helpful, but I’m not sure what magazines are covered in it. You might be able to check with a local antique dealer in your area or you could look for issues that people are selling on eBay and get an estimate that way.

  9. Peter Leeflang says:

    If you want to sell your large lots or collections of Photoplay or other movie magazines, consider contacting Peter at THE LEEFLANG ARCHIVES, a major old magazine back issue dealer at 1-888-727-9742. You’ll get a fair price (wholesale, not retail, of course) and save that way a lot of time describing and photographing and communicating, as well as money and waiting for sales if you would be selling yourself on Ebay or similar sites.

  10. John says:

    I like to stick to collecting photos and books on old hollywood. I love the artwork and posters of old films. There are plenty of books around. Those Great Movie Ads is a great book for the beginning collector. It is out of print but can be found cheaply on any used book site.

  11. Lily says:

    Hi,

    I am looking for a copy of the 1925 July edition of Photoplay with the Marshall Nielan interview about being a motion picture director. I have been looking online and the closest I’ve come is finding the August magazine! If anyone here has that copy I would love to buy it from you! It would be cherished!!!

    Thanks all

  12. Joyce Lenson says:

    Hi, I have a Feb 1931 Photoplay Magazine, Garbo vs Dietrich. How can I find out the value.

    • Ginny says:

      Hi Joyce. I apologize that I am so late in answering your question! For some reason, I’m just seeing your comment now.

      I know there are many factors that can determine the value of old magazines, so I think it would be best to contact someone with experience doing appraisals. If you look at the comment above from Peter Leeflang, The Leeflang Archives sounds like a good place to start. You can contact them by phone at 1-888-727-9742 or you can find information about their services on their website: http://www.leeflangarchives.com/index.php.

      I hope that helps!

  13. Jane Castle says:

    I have been collecting old movie fan magazines for about thirteen years. They are a great way to decorate your walls, especially if your an old movie fan and looking for a retro look for your home. They are also a lot less expensive and realistically sized for a home than trying to display movie posters. You can buy simple, black picture frames especially made to display magazines. Craft stores like “Michael’s” sell them.
    My collection would not have been possible without ebay. You just can’t find a lot of vintage magazines in antique stores, although I have found a few that way. I like a variety of different publications, but I focus on the 1930′s; the golden age of movie stars. My favorite covers are those with Joan Crawford on them. She was very popular and glamorous during that era. I love the colorful painted illustrations of the stars on the covers rather than the later photographs.

  14. Larry Burden says:

    I am looking for the back issue of Photoplay magazine that carried a color photo of Jeff Chandler. He is dressed in a red shirt and is wearing a beautiful gold watch. Mostly likely the issue was released in the years 1957-59. Thank you.

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