A collection judged by its covers

Phil Horton amongst his collection of vintage magazine covers.

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? Phil Horton.

Collection? Covers and advertisements from old magazines.

How did your collection begin? “I was initially attracted to the art and printing because I really enjoy history. Going back in time more than a hundred years ago, if a company wanted to print an advertisement in color, they had to hire an artist to draw it,” he said. “There’s a whole school of artists, including Norman Rockwell, who specialized in commercial art and from a young age and on through my older age, I’ve found the advertising artwork fascinating from a historical standpoint.”

Horton said his collection started in earnest about 20 years ago while on a business trip to the West Coast. He stopped by an antiques store and discovered a hard-to-refuse stash of old magazines. Horton said he bought the entire inventory for about $1,500. He has since made several bulk purchases of vintage magazines.

What are the earliest pieces you own? “The oldest go back to the 1880s. Everything I own is authentic, every cover and advertisement I physically removed from some degree of a magazine, whatever was left of it or otherwise,” Horton said, adding that he personally has mounted every piece to a heavy cardboard backing and placed in a plastic sleeve.

How many pieces do you own? “About 30,000 pieces. They are organized by category, so you’ll see I have a pretty large collection of automobiles advertisements, for example.”

There are more than 70 categories and they include health and beauty, beer, cigarettes, politics, food, candy, soft drinks, recreation, to name a few. There are dozens of sub-categories, too. For example, the food category is broken into specific kinds of food, such as cereal, soup, snack foods, desserts, etc.

Meanwhile, many of the advertisements from the 1920s and ‘30s reflect an era where “politically correct” was an unknown term. Specifically, African-Americans were shown in a stereotypical or derogatory light, for example.

How do you display your collection? “I have a building on my property where I keep the collection. They’re in fitted bins and, as I said, they are separated by category.”

What’s going to eventually happen to the collection? “I have two daughters whose interest in the collection is more about seeing my interest in it, and that’s about the extent of it. My wife and I are ready to have some little adventure before we’re done, so we’re looking to maybe list the house this summer. I’m starting to look into the possibility of selling the collection; I’d love to see it to go into a museum. I may do some open hours this spring. I may open the gallery up (to people interested in purchasing items).”

Horton said he has done shows in the past, including a Christmas-themed program at Schoolcraft Township Library. Horton said there is no shortage of Santa Claus promoting various products, including Murad cigarettes, Dewars Whisky, Sunkist orange pop, Lionel trains, Coca-Cola and a wide range of everyday products. Horton showed an advertisement from an 1898 Harper’s Weekly magazine featuring Santa Claus.

Is there any advertisement you don’t have but wish you did? “I guess a few that come to mind are some Edison Mazda (light bulb) advertisements painted by Maxfield Parrish. I have some of his work but the Edison Mazda paintings from the 1910s and 1920s are always very well done but really hard to find.”

What joy do you get out of collecting vintage magazine covers and advertisements? “Some of the joy comes from the thrill of the hunt. I can’t fairly express the pleasure I get out of scouring places for old magazines then finding some. I’d buy them and it was just ecstasy to sit down and go through them, page by page. Every page I’d turn was a surprise waiting to happen.

You appear to love your collection, is this correct? “Yes, I do and I really want people to see them, if possible. I would love to see these in a rotating show somewhere. That’s a dream, but at the very least I’d love people to see them and enjoy them, but it’s always been an issue of how to you present them.”

Footnotes: Horton, 72, grew up in Allegan County and has lived for 40 years in Lawton. He used to sell pieces from his collection from a vendor booth in Shipshewana until that market closed. Horton said he used to travel frequently for business and always made time to find antique stores or places that sold old magazines. His email address is: phil.wellspring@gmail.com.

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