Monday, April 26, 2010

Pulp fiction - hard facts.

I picked up a bunch of old dime magazines some years ago when I was living in Bristol, a few of them pictured above. They stem from the 1930s, and it's interesting to find some big names attached to the stories within - Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler amongst them. I guess this was where they cut their writing teeth before going on to become popular novelists.

Better than the stories, though, are the small ads. Here's a real slice of social history, a clue as to the lives of Americans during the post-Depression era. It's apparent that jobs were scarce, money and health a worry, social contact limited. Take a look...

Learning to play a musical intrument was promoted as a way of gaining both cash and popularity. How many Hawaiian guitars were bought, I wonder, on the assurance that 'only four motions were required' in order to master the instrument? And how many such instruments would be laid aside upon discovering that a musician's life is about as glittering as that of a dirt farmer?

  Money money money - ways to find it, make it, keep it. How desperate the eyes that scanned these pages, how vain the hope that a dime mag would somehow provide the answer, the quick fix needed to pay those bills. What punters probably didn't realise was that the hawkers of these schemes and 'opportunities' would have been equally desperate.


And look at this. America was apparently populated by bow-legged, crooked-nosed, kidney-strained men who were too old at 35 to be capable of reproduction. It's a wonder that the next generation ever came into being.

Finally, a little sample from the personal trading columns. I notice that there are a few musical instruments up for swaps - perhaps bought from these very pages - the idea that a banjo can be a ticket to riches and social acceptance being peddled to the next mug. And here's a guy in Arizona, looking around his empty apartment, wondering what his pickled tarantula might fetch on the open market, a Colorado farmer willing to trade his 320 acres for a two-bit filling station in town.

Hemingway must have been thinking of such hidden lives when he wrote his famous six-word short story: 'For sale, baby's shoes. Never worn.'

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