Wednesday, September 26, 2018

More bang for your buck, or more quotes for your quarter

I haven't read much worth writing about lately, but what I have read lately interested me in a different way. I've just made my way through a recently-scanned issue of Fifteen Western Tales from May 1947. There were a few good stories in the more introspective late-pulp style -- stories by T.C. McClary, William Heuman and Tom W. Blackburn are highlights -- and relatively few in the more corny, cliched style. What impressed me most about the issue was the sheer density of text it offered. Any pulp reader knows that type sizes varied throughout the era, depending on how many pages a magazine had and how much content an editor wanted to cram in. Sometimes sizes varied within a single issue, as in many a mid-1930s issue of Argosy. The "normal" pulp page usually had forty-something lines of text to a column, but you often saw it go over fifty. This Fifteen Western Tales had a daunting 63 lines of text to a column. The only other time I've seen type that small in a standard-sized pulp is in a 1944 Adventure in my own collection, but I attributed that to Popular Publications (also Fifteen Western's publisher) having just reduced Adventure's page count from 160 to 144 pages. I don't know how representative  the May 1947 issue was, but in another recent scan from 1946, and another from 1949 (all with the same page count) the number of lines is much closer to "normal." Mind you, I'm not complaining about May 1947. Reading it on a 10" screen in a very good scan didn't strain the eye, and of course in real life it would be bigger still. To me there's something comforting about those walls of text. It looks like you're getting your money's worth, whether you paid a dime or a quarter once upon a time, a whole lot more in the 21st century, or absolutely nothing for a scan. Thinking about it, though, made me wonder whether anyone else noticed differences in type sizes or had an ideal number of lines per column for the optimal reading experience. One reader's feast of print easily could be another's eyestrain, especially as another grows older. The one sure thing is that when you look at something like that May 1947 issue you can believe that the editor and publisher tried their best to give you as much fiction as possible that month, and believing that is a good feeling.

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