Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Top-Notch was one of several twice-monthly general-fiction pulps published by Street & Smith, along with The Popular and Complete Stories. It's probably best know today for publishing some of Robert E. Howard's stories about the 20th century adventurer El Borak. Back in 1930, this issue saw a change in Top-Notch's cover format, introducing a more vivid color palette and an almost Art Deco design concept. The same issue also launched a strange story gimmick: the "theme-song story." Basically, the entertainment industry had recently discovered that talking, singing pictures with theme songs led to big sales for records and sheet music. Street & Smith's idea was to commission theme songs for the lead stories in each issue of Top-Notch, and I presume each issue also included sheet music for these songs. The gimmick lasted until at least November of that year. As for the prose writers for this issue, I recognized only one: the legendary Burt L. Standish, aka William George Patten, whose legendary creation, once a household name, was Frank Merriwell, the archetypal American student-athlete. Patten/Standish created Merriwell back in 1896, and eventually Street & Smith published the adventures of a second-generation Merriwell. The serial concluding in this issue, Flaming Hate, was a change of pace, in that previous stories usually had Merriwell's name in the title. It may have been meant as a last-chance game-changer, but it seems not to have worked. The next Merriwell serial, The Red Arrow (July-August 1930) is Merriwell's last appearance in pulp, according to the Fiction Mags Index, though the character would continue in comic strips, a movie serial, and radio shows. Top-Notch went monthly in late 1932 and expired in the fall of 1937.


  1. I found TOP NOTCH to be a disappointment compared to the other general fiction pulps like ARGOSY, SHORT STORIES, ADVENTURE, BLUEBOOK. For much of it's life it was slanted toward the teenage boy market with many stories by Frank Merriwell and an emphasis on the clean outdoors and sports fiction. In the 1930's there was an attempt to make it more adult but finally the end came in 1937.

    My collection once reached over 400 issues of the 600 or so before I gave up. It had a long life, 1910-1937, starting out in the dime novel format for a few issues. The most interesting series was probably Speed Dash, The Human Fly by Erle Stanley Gardner. I have around 20 novelettes during 1925-1930.

  2. Walker, would you guess that Top-Notch was aiming for a broader "family" market with that theme-song gimmick, since I doubt the idea appealed much to teenage boys? That aside, I agree that Street & Smith's dedication to "clean" stories, e.g. Western Story's "Big, Clean Stories of Outdoor Life," probably is a turn-off for people who identify pulp with the hard-boiled and the weird.

  3. This issue is 1930 and it's around this period that TOP NOTCH tried to revamp the magazine and make it more adult and less slanted toward teenage boys. So you are right about the family market and theme song gimmick, which, by the way, I thought was a dumb idea. I'm all for making the stories more adult but the theme song stuff was dated even back then.