“Two is a pair. Three is a collection,” goes the saying. I have several collections. Fortunately I manage to contain and control them even as I augment them. Searching for additions to my collections provides me with a reason to go to estate sales, rummage sales, and thrift shops. I set restrictions (“no more than fifty cents for an XYZ,” “only editions published before my birth year”). That forces me to search for bargains and ensures that I will not complete a collection any too soon.
Ideals magazine is one of my slow-growing collections. I bought a dozen more issues at a sale in Winthrop Harbor earlier this month. (They met the fifty-cent restriction.)
I first encountered Ideals in the 1950’s when my mother subscribed to it. I was learning to read in those days and I was drawn to the colorful photos and scrapbook-like format of the quarterly magazine. Some pages had illustrations like those in picture books. Other pages featured poems or Bible verses with beautiful lettering and ornate borders. (Years later I learned the terms “calligraphy” and “engrossed”).
This week as I interfiled my new acquisitions with those I’d gotten earlier I wondered about the origin of the magazine.
In the 1940’s Van B. Hooper was the public relations manager for the Louis Allis Co. in Milwaukee. He liked to supplement the in-house newsletter, the Messenger, with poetry and inspirational quotations. The additions made a big hit with employees. Friends of employees who saw the publication wanted copies, too. In 1944 he published a Christmas anthology of those bits and pieces. Nostalgia and homespun wisdom were welcome in the dark days of wartime. Hooper struck a chord with readers and Ideals magazine was launched.
Each issue of Ideals had a theme. Christmas was the standard-bearer, joined each year by Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving. Other themes varied from year to year with topics like “Neighborly,” “Hometown,” and “Candleglow.” An article titled “The Corner Grocery” might be followed by a poem by Walt Whitman and a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. A Christmas issue had a meditation about winter, a retelling of the Nativity story, and a description of Yuletide in Scandinavia. There was no advertising, making Ideals seem more like a book to keep and re-read. The covers were plastic-coated and the interior pages were printed on heavyweight paper, contributing to that feeling of permanence.
Maryjane Hooper Tonn succeeded her father as Ideals editor and publisher until the late 1980’s. Under new management the company relocated from Milwaukee to Nashville, TN, and in 2000 it was acquired by Guideposts. It is now produced by Worthy Publishing . Though it is no longer available by subscription, Christmas and Easter issues are sold at bookstores including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. (In my opinion the old (Milwaukee) issues are a lot more interesting than the newer ones.)
Perhaps there are a few copies of Ideals on your bookshelf or in your attic. Dust them off and enjoy some homespun nostalgia this holiday season!
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Note 1: there is little information online about Ideals. There's a Facebook group. I have one article: "A Merry Magazine," by Donald-Brian Johnson, published in Treasures Magazine, December, 2013, which I photocopied at the library. I called the Milwaukee Public Library local history department. The librarian said they have a file folder of clippings, but nothing has been digitized. I didn't have time to go to MPL. (I'm surprised that no one has written about Ideals for the Wisconsin Magazine of History .)
Note 2: As I leafed through the back issues I was very much aware that the nostalgic world Ideals romanticizes is very white, Eurocentric, and Protestant.