Modern Journals

Scribner's: The Men, The Myth, The Magazine

The Scribner name was a major one in the world of publishing throughout the twentieth century, but the role that the company—as a publisher, a literary magazine, a champion of literature—played during the modernist period of literature, primarily around the turn of the century until the 1930's, was especially substantial. In fact, the prominence of the Scribner name in association with publishing was likely what gave the Scribner's Magazine such success for so long during its run in the early 1900s. 

In 1846, as American writers like Edgar Allen Poe and James Fenimore Cooper were beginning to write literature that would become known as distinctly American, or "truly native," Charles Scribner I and his business partner, Isaac Baker opened their publishing firm, Baker & Scribner, in New York City. For the next few decades, Baker & Scribner, later Charles Scribner & Co. after Isaac Baker's death in 1851, would publish several bestselling works. Originally, the company was primarily publishing books that were religious in nature, beginning with the 1846 publication of Edwin Hall's The Puritans and Their Principles. Scribner & Co. even published a religious periodical from 1865-1870 called Hours at Home, which was touted as "a popular magazine of religious and useful literature." A few other periodicals followed, including The Book Buyer: A Summary of American and Foreign Literature and St. Nicholas: Scribner's Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls. Finally, in 1870 Scribner's began the first run of one of its namesake periodicals, Scribner's Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine for the People. With the death of Charles Scribner I in 1871, the company, which had several co-owners by this time, changed hands a few times before finally being taken over primarily by Scribner's sons J. Blair Scribner and Charles Scribner II, who rebranded the publisher under the name Charles Scribner's Sons in 1878.

Because of the changing of hands that occurred after Scribner's death, the Scribner name was under copyright with a separate offshoot of the original company, Scribner & Welford, and so in 1881, Scribner's Monthly, which was being published by the then-obsolete Scribner & Co. became The Century Magazine. A few years later however, in 1887, Scribner's Sons began publishing a new literary magazine, Scribner's Magazine, to capitalize on the increasing popularity of such publications.

The first issue of Scribner's Magazine contained poetry and prose, spanning the scope of interests from popular fiction to political articles. ike its predecessor, Scribner's Magazine was full of illustrations as well as literature, in fact, W.T. Stead, editor of the Review of Reviews, said, in the first volume of his publication, that "the strength of Scribner's lies in the illustrations." It was not uncommon, too, for the magazine to include features on artists and works of art criticism as well. Scribner's valued the aesthetic appeal of their publication just as much as the literary appeal, and long-time editor of the publication, Edward Burlingame, made sure to employ the best engravers and introduced full-color illustrations to the magazine as early as 1900, which ensured that Scribner's Magazine truly held up to the promise of "an illustrated magazine for the people."

At the turn of the century, under the leadership of Charles Scribner II, the company continued to grow in pominence as a publisher as well as in the production of their magazine. Scribner was such a vital part of the world of publishing, in fact, that in 1900, he became the first president of the American Publishers Association. In 1902, the company established The Scribner's Press, set up primarily for printing Scribner's Magazine, which had grown in readership significantly due to the magazine's stunning illustrations and decisive literary publication. The magazine soared to prominence when, in the October 1909 issue, it published the first of recently-retired president Theodore Roosevelt's African Hunting articles. This led to the sale of 215,000 copies, which was the highest sales number to date for a publication of its type.

Scribner's Magazine's connection with the prominent publishing house of Scribner's Sons meant that fresh, young authors were eager to have their work published in its pages. Some of these writers who found their start within Scribner's included Henry James, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and so many others. It was common for authors who saw success with a Scribner's published book to continue publishing their work with the magazine as well. F. Scott Fitzgerald, for example had The Great Gatsby published by Scribner's in 1925, and continued to have his shorter stories, such as Tender is the Night, published within the magazine. Ernest Hemingway, too, received patronage from Scribner's. In fact, one of his later works, A Farewell to Arms, was first serialized in Scribner's Magazine in 1929. This publication was met with mixed reviews, however, and the magazine was even banned for two months in Boston because of the "salacious" nature of Hemingway's story. 

Throughout the early 1900s, the relationship that writers were able to have with Scribner's publishing house made their magazine a major success, and allowed them to continue publishing giants of literature, art, and politics, alongside undiscovered writers. The publication presented arts in a cosmopolitan manner which was appealing to middle-class readers, not just the high-society readers of other publications.

Unfortunately, with the downturn of the market during the Great Depression, Scribner's Magazine, like many other publications, was unable to withstand the financial strain. Throughout the 1930s, the magazine saw several re-formatting efforts in order to make it more sustainable, but eventually in 1938, Harlan Logan and Associates, Ind., a company associated with a former editor of the publication, took over publication of the magazine until, in May of 1939, production halted altogether. With the onset of World War II, Scribner's was revived and merged with another magazine, The Commentator, to become The Scribner's Commentator, which throughout the war years published works that were primarily political in nature.