What are pulp magazines?

Posted by Matt McCauley on

If you're here, you may be asking the questions, "what are pulp magazines?" Does it have something to do with Pulp Fiction? Well you're in the right place, keep on reading!

History Lesson

First things first: they are called "pulps" because of the cheap pulp paper used to print the pages of the magazines. 

The pulp magazine format originated in the late 1890s in a magazine called Argosy. After success in providing cheap entertainment to the masses, Street & Smith followed suit and over the next 20-30 years more and more publishers joined the fray. By the 1920s-1940s, there were scores of pulp magazines with some reaching 1 million copies sold of each issue. 

During that time, many famous pulp magazines launched including: Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories/Science Fiction, Weird Tales, Western Story Magazine, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Dime Detective among many. These pulps spanned genres from science fiction to horror to adventure. 

Eventually, the second World War struck and paper shortages drove supply shortages and increased prices. With a switch to smaller digest magazines and competition from comics and paperbacks (a close cousin of the Pulp), the era of pulps was soon over.

What is so important about Pulps?

Great question! While pulps began as a business like any other, the influence they had on multiple genres of fiction can't be overstated. Authors who got their start in the pulps include: H.P. Lovecraft (Cthulhu Mythos), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, John Carter), Isaac Asimov (Foundation; I, Robot), Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), Frank Herbert (Dune), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones). The list goes on and on. 

The format for their stories often included short, serial stories with cliffhangers that made the reader want to buy the next month's issue. The original Dune, for example, was a three part series running from December 1963 through February 1964. The Foundation trilogy, by Isaac Asimov, was actually written over a span of eight years from 1942 to 1950 and wasn't published as a book until a year later in 1951 (with one new intro story to tie things together). 

The influence not only of authors, but of editors including John W. Campbell and Hugo Gernsback (for whom the Hugo Award is named), caused ripples through the future of fiction writing for decades. Key plot points often came from the minds of these editors....based on what they thought would sell of course.

Why should I collect Pulps?

Every pulp collector has their own origin story, just like the characters they love in these pulps. Common reasons to collect include:

  • Story/Author focus - target the original versions of favorite stories and authors (this is how I got started, but I'll save that for another post)
  • Cover/art focus - pulps were famous for their vibrant covers, to stand out on the newstand. Some enjoy collecting specific artists such as Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, or Alex Schomburg.
  • Completionists - you know people who love doing puzzles and hate when a piece is missing. Well some of those people also collect pulps
  • Dabblers - many comic collectors have started to dabble in pulp collecting as a slightly cheaper option
  • Investors/Speculators - the reality is Pulps have increased in price drastically over the years, with a finite supply and poor construction which has not allowed them to survive in large numbers. Collecting key, early issues with famous authors can be a financially savvy alternative investment.

How do I get started?

I'll save that for another post, but a great first step would be to take a look at the collection on Rare Pulps and see if anything catches your eye. If you have any questions or are looking for a specific issue, don't hesitate to email me at info@rarepulps.com

Happy collecting!



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