Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Uncomputerized: How Magazine Memories 150,000 Periodicals were Organized into 65 Topics, for Instant Retrieval from my Brain, only, Once upon a Time…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 3:17 pm on Sunday, February 20, 2022

by Robert M. Katzman © March 12, 2022

One time, in 1964 when I was about fourteen and exploring Chicago on my bicycle “Scout”, it had variations of back-issue magazines stores sprinkled around the metropolis. Some, a few older magazines in a cardboard box inside of used bookstores. Some stores, about a half-dozen, were strictly periodicals. 

When I bought an old Buick in 1967, and then had the ability to explore a wider range of the city, I found the old magazine stores one by one, including some in Milwaukee. Some were highly organized by the uniformly older and usually irritable, grey-haired and serious men – only men – who ran the places. Some were masses of magazines lying in a huge pile on a basement floor. 

From all these various kinds of places I learned what not to do if I ever had the chance to own an old magazine place of my own. I also learned how not to talk to younger people who were curious about how different things were done. Or who asked me questions about history. Year by year, decade by decade, I educated myself about history differently than I ever would have if I had chosen to attend a University in a conventional four-year manner. 

Cancer stopped that learning opportunity in my life, but my will wasn’t cut out along with the tumor in my face. So, classic negative reinforcement became a way for me to build a business. 

Two decades later, Fate and my hell-bent determination to remain self-employed offered me the opportunity to try out my version of how to do same thing those old men did, but in my own way. 

I tried working for others and discovered I was not genetically predisposed to do that.

But using what I learned as a boy and applying it to my first collectible magazine store in 1985, I eventually sold thousands of antique magazines over a thirty-one-year career. 

To keep this organizational system simple to grasp, and it wasn’t simple, I will only list the categories I used to identify each shelf.

It was a system designed to make it possible to help an uncertain customer to make a decision, a customer who wasn’t necessarily seeking to find a periodical with a date to match a birthday, wedding anniversary or an event like that. 

Another reason why good organization mattered a lot before the population changed around me: People from movie studios would come to my store to buy a range of magazines – one of each – to decorate a set in order to establish a certain period of time, or sometimes to recreate a period newspaper stand. TV program people also used me. My prices were low enough for them, and I had so much that they didn’t have to run around looking for what they needed at other places. Except, and I never said this to anyone in those situations because the obvious didn’t need stating, that there were finally, no other places

On some occasions, when a movie moves forward in time, a set decorator would buy a range of magazines from every ten years, or something like that. It could amount to a hellova lot of magazines, but I was also aware that my location arrangement for easy shopping made the set decorator look very smart, very effective. I got to know some very well and professional friendships followed that. It was also fun and made me, for a long while, feel essential to the process of creating the illusion of time, with my periodicals.

On a different level, my final store, just north of Chicago, which was located in Skokie, Illinois on a street with no traffic (even after a train stop was created there), began to slide toward extinction; because the population all around me, also near me in Lincolnwood, changed from a general European mixture and about 20% Jewish, to 100% East Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali and Assyrian.

This wasn’t a problem with danger or crime. The houses became ever more expensive with the competition to find one near one’s own countrymen or those who spoke a similar language. The new inhabitants were likely far better educated and had more disposable income.

The real and never-anticipated challenge to my store’s existence was that these groups were from the Asian part of the world and their worldview came from there; and their memory of history came from there, as well as their wars, national heroes and revolutions.

But I was essentially selling United States history, and Eastern and Western European history in periodical form with heroes, revolutions, wars and famous personalities which the new inhabitants all around me didn’t connect with on any level. 

Someone from Pakistan was not going to give a relative of theirs an actual newspaper about the American Civil War, because it had nothing to do with that person’s life, even if they were generally familiar with American history in general as part of their university education. 

The few Jews who remained in my larger sales area were in a similar situation to mine, because they were “Ultra-Orthodox” or Hasidim or Hasidic, all of which pretty much is the same thing, meaning they were consumed with educating their children and students in the ways of their 18thCentury or so idolized religious leaders from Eastern Europe; to the point of living in walled compounds where the women’s education stopped at an early age and they were expected to have babies beginning at an early age after marriage, which might mean an arranged marriage. 

The number of babies per family could reach seven to ten or even more as a normal fact of life in these communities. The first, second and third languages spoken there were Yiddish, then English and Hebrew.

Though my own family all immigrated from Eastern Europe and all were Jews, they and I all integrated into general American society where religion and customs were a separate part of our lives, but not ALL of our lives. The babies were generally two or three, sometimes. I have four children and am in a minority of contemporary Jewish families. But for me, each child a slap at Hitler’s face to extinguish all of us. I have no idea if other Jews feel this way.

So even the religious Jews were not my customers because their all-consuming interest was the Torah, and the Talmud: The body of Jewish and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah, which was the Mishna (text) and the Gemara (commentery). Period. But then, and God certainly knows this, I’m no scholar about my Jewish Brethren. I looked all this up.

With time on my hands and an increasing worry that the rent was coming due; with still fresh memories of my third Magazine Memories — which was located in Morton Grove, Illinois about three miles Northwest of my then current (and last) location in Skokie. After two decades, that business died there in the Great Recession in America from 2008 to 2009, and I struggled with finding something to do. 

Organizing my periodicals by subject, period, country and personality ended up accelerating sales as the years passed, where in the earlier years, date alone was all that was necessary to make the store’s concept work. 

What follows now are those categories. For the record, my creating this organization did make it possible for me to last longer than I might have, but I also had the time to do it because my once — plentiful customers were disappearing. 

A razor’s edge of a situation. But the endless organization also helped keep me sane as the store’s end neared.

Writing this possibly difficult for people to believe memory took me months to remember all of these categories without a written record, beseeching my subconscious brain, always an aid in my career and life, to help me. My last store closed in 2016. 

These may not be all of the sections I created in my store, but I think 65 are enough:

I hope my readers enjoy this stroll through eccentricity and Time. Today, as far as I know, it exists nowhere else anymore.                                            

1) Date: By Month back to 1850 or so. By week, from 1900 on

 2) Name: Time, Newsweek, US News, The American, Liberty, Life, Look, Post, Colliers

 3) Wars/Battles: Before America/Revolution/1812/Alamo/Mexican War/Spanish American War/WW1/WW2/Korea

 4) American History: Immigration/Expansion/Railroads/Industrial Capacity/Nationalities

 5) American Presidents: All, up to Nixon 

6) Scandinavian countries: Vikings/People/Lifestyle

7) Jewish topics: Religion, Israel, history, populations around the world, the Holocaust

8) Sub-continent: India, Pakistan/Nepal/Bhutan/Bangladesh/Sri Lanka/Religions

9) Automotive magazines, by date and famous brands like the DeLorean, Tucker, first Mustang on covers or in Life magazine/Philosopher an inventor (like the Geodesic dome) R. Buckminster Fuller’s futuristic Dymaxion car which was originally displayed at the Chicago’s World’s Fair in 1933. Only two still exist in reno Nevada’s National Auto Museum

10) Canada, by Province, nationality, history

11) South America/Central America/Colonization/Panama Canal

12) National Geographic Maps of everywhere in the world, over 100 years. Also charts of every kind. Also, the once quite collectible issues on Flags of the world from 1918 and again after WW2, and about a thousand photos of Military Decorations from WW1 and WW2 

13) Flowers/Butterflies/Moths/Spiders/Beetles/other types of Insects

14) North, Central, South American Native Tribes/ History/Art/ Customs/ Wars/ Weapons

15) Scientific American, Popular Science, Science and Mechanics, Mechanics Illustrated 

16) The New Yorker by date, writer, cartoon or cover artist, back to 1925. At one point, I had 4,000 different issues of The New Yorker Magazine in my store. I also had every JD Salinger issue except for one that was published in the New Yorker. I had many famed authors and poets organized alphbetically instead of by date.

17) Shipwrecks/1912 Titanic newspapers/Lusitania sinking/Maine explosion

18) Major European Countries, their wars and major personalities within each country: France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy, Baltics, Balkans, Poland, Romania

19) America: Regions/Cities: North-East, Midwest, North-West, South-West, South-East, Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Chicago, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Denver,

20) Viet Nam: Complete history of the country and the war, and more on SE Asia

21) Korea: History of the war and the country/Philippines/ History of the war and the country

22) Japan: History of the Country/Art/Architecture/Samurai/Wars/technology

23) Africa: by Region/Boer War/Cultures/Art/Tribes/Languages/History/Religion/Colonies

24) Black History/Slavery/Jazz/Civil Rights/Personalities/authors/playwrights/artists/actors, etc.

25): American Authors: Hemingway/Nelson Algren, Sylvia Plath and so many others/ Ms Magazine/Women’s Liberation Movement and Personalities

26) Georgia O’Keefe/Salvador Dali/Picasso/Chagall/Grandma Moses/Modern Art issue/ Jewish artist Arthur Szyk whose ugly caricatured images of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini rotted on the covers of all three of them he drew during World War Two for The Saturday Evening Post.

27) Rolling Stone: by date and personality, back to the very beginning when they were folded like newspapers/Many other similar periodicals from Britain

28) Science Fiction Digest, Ellery Queen-related Mystery magazines

29) Photographers/All photography periodicals back to the1940’s

30) Ramparts/Counter — Cultural Periodicals/Andy Warhol’s Interview/Reality Magazine

31) Cooking Periodicals/Wine/Connoisseur

32) Men’s magazines from the 1950’s thru present day

33) US Playboy/Special Editions/Playboys from 30 countries, organized by country/maybe 10,000 issues of Playboy highly organized in every possible way beginning in 1954 at my peak in 2009

34) Penthouse/Special Editions  

35) Birds/Dinosaurs/Dogs/Cats/Amphibians

36) Fish/Whales/Sharks/other kinds of sea life

37) Horses/Pigs/Chickens

38) Yankee/ Farmers Almanacs/Coronet/Reader’s Digest

39 China: History/Peoples/Wars/Culture

40) Filmmakers/Hollywood/Stars/ Theater/Personalities

41) Underground Comix (first sold them in 1967)

42) Bette Page/Marilyn Monroe periodical collection

43) Pulp magazines (dangerous, because the cheap paper crumbled into flammable dust)

44) Time Magazine “Man of the Year” issues back to 1925

45) Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers back to 1916 (321 total covers)

46) Joseph Christian (JL) Leyendecker Post covers, back to 1899 (322 total covers)

47) Harpers’s Weekly, Leslie’s and the earlier 19thCentury Life Magazine 

48) 19thCentury Ladies Home Journal/ McCalls’s magazines/Farmer’sMonthly

49) 19thCentury Periodicals with Illustrations by James Montgomery Flagg

50) Fortune Magazine back to 1930/also organized by subject/artist/war/corporations

51) Sports periodicals back to 1940’s (Sport/Sports Illustrated)

52) All Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues + later competition issues

53) Fashion back to near 1900: Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Flair, Seventeen

54) Russia: Nationalities, regions (Oblasts), religions, wars, personalities, art, architecture 

55) Architectural Digest/ FL Wright/Frank Geary/Many others

56) Esquire back to first issue in 1933

57) American Mercury and other muckraking types of periodicals

58) Mad Magazine back to first issue in 1952/Cracked/Sick

59) Capt. Billy’s Whiz Bang (1920-1936) and other 1900’s Boy’s digest magazines

60) Country Gentleman and The Progressive Farmer monthly magazines: 19thCentury

61) New Yorker cover and/or artists and cartoonists: Rea Irvin/Art Spiegelman/Edward Sorel/Charles Adams/ Al Hirschfeld/ Saul Steinberg/Charles Getz/Reginald Marsh/James Thurber/William Stieg/Jules Feiffer/Boris Artzybasheff

62) High Times (I was the original Chicago distributorfor them in 1977)

63) National Lampoon Monthly/Harvard Lampoon of Playboy/Time/Life/Cosmopolitan and Sports illustrated

64) Space Exploration, from 1959 on, every space shot, satellite, astronaut, disaster, and everything related to the moon landing including all periodicals gathered together in one section, all of Russia’s successes, and projections about getting to Mars one day, as well.

65) The fall of the Berlin Wall, in many publications, all in one metal rack.

None of these sixty-five categories existed on a flash drive, a CD or a computer’s memory.

The store’s total inventory and organization was inside of my head. I never considered it to be difficult. As far as I knew, all stores were run this way, and I was nothing special. Except for having brain surgery twice to remove four tumors, leaving behind two for me to live with.

Think about all of this. 

I realize, today, at near 72 years old, five years after my last store closed, it is incredible. 

Somehow, over time, I became a flesh encyclopedia, everything above stored in my dusty, cramped and dimly lit Subconscious Storeroom. 


Comment by Don Larson

February 20, 2022 @ 4:05 pm

Excellent conceptualization, Bob!

Comment by Herb Berman

February 20, 2022 @ 7:15 pm

You’re walking, talking history, Bob.

I also discovered that I wasn’t “genetically predisposed” to work for others.

Comment by Kumari de Silva

February 21, 2022 @ 8:50 am

Oh but I used to be this way too back in the 80s when I worked in first used bookstores and then later a new bookstore, even when I wasn’t trying to memorize the inventory, it used to just happen, because I was always knee deep in the books, shelving them, dusting them, replacing them, checking them out. People would be so surprised when they came in looking for a book say “Land And Power in Hawaii” and I’d be like “It’s the second book from the left on the third shelf over there. . . ” I couldn’t help it. Those books were my true loves

Comment by Steve Shay

February 21, 2022 @ 11:13 am

I loved the Dempster Street shop and yes they seemed to locate every obscure magazine I asked for.

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