Chums: 1906/7 and 1932/3

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Having built up quite a collection of food, i was able to save some money recently. And, trying to ignore my need of new shoes (“the weather’s warming up anyway, it won’t rain much”) i decided to buy a Chums volume i’ve had my eye on. It was £45 (well, 40 as the woman very kindly gives a student discount), as opposed to £2.99 (and £10 delivery) for the 1906/7 volume… but then again that was from Ebay, which is often cheaper, and in horrendous condition. It even smells like it’s been near a fire at one point, my more adventruous nature would like to think it narrowly escaped the blitz, but more likely it was in an attic near where the chimney went up for many years.

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Anyway, Chums was initially started by Cassell & Co. in 1892, pre-empting the perhaps better-remembered Boys’ Friend for a large-format story paper with serial instalments, in addition to a complete story of decent length, and the odd factual article. Then again Chums was most likely a penny when it started, whereas the Boys’ Friend was a halfpenny in the 1890’s, that would have accounted for sales success.

Following the style of the times, the size of the paper was what we’d today call arbitrary. Or perhaps “two thirds tabloid”.

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Volumes of The Boys’ Friend 1903-4, Chums 1906-7 (the covers are only very slightly bigger than the comics within)  and a typical “half tabloid” (roughly A4 give or take a few mm’s – though older ones described as the same were actually a little bigger, especially in height, due to cheaper printing quality needing more ‘run off’ room.) comic.

The 1907 (i’ll call them by the later year now to save myself so much typing!) volume, despite being very rickety (it needed repairs i may cover in another post), contains a lot of fascinating material. The typical content of an issue seems to have been longish instalments of at least two serials, a complete story, sometimes a second complete story, as well as an “editors chat” (sometimes a page, sometimes two columns). At least one humourous comic strip, usually with it’s panels “scattered” on a text page and miscellaneous oddments of knowledge or snippets of interesting news and events.  A bit like a less-childish Chatterbox, really. Some issues would include a longer article in place of the second complete story, these articles usually profusely illustrated with photographs and related to some subject of direct interest to the readers, such as scouting.  Still more issues didn’t feature either, though, simply taking up the room with a lot of small articles or jokes.

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The 1907 volume also reproduces the covers and adverts, in fact it’s just the same as the paper that was sold individually in the shops. There is, actually, the possibility that this is a bound volume of the paper that was bought every week by somebody and then bound together using the “official covers” that could probably be bought seperately. However the beginning of the book (mainly the bit of ‘tracing paper’ over the contents, as was the style of the times) suggests otherwise. I’m sure the advertisers and cover illustrators didn’t complain about the extra exposure anyway.

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Two typical spreads from the 1907 volume. Note the comic strips (and the sometimes “scattered” layout of them), the short articles with bold headings and the adventure stories. Aside from the comic strips, covers and heading pictures for the stories (in a lot of serials this seems to have been the same each instalment) illustrations of the text stories are actually quite few and far between. The odd complete story seems to have quite a few, though. Perhaps it was just what would fit in once the story was done… or if the illustrators had time to provide any!

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Photographs are actually a more common sight in the older volume than the new. Several articles on ships (this the HMS dreadnought, the insitigator of a whole era of naval warfare) and monarchs / heads of state feature them. The reproduction is actually quite good compared to the high-contrast, murky reproduction in some other papers. (It’s certainly better than the flash makes it look in this picture!)

Onto the newer volume now, covering 1932 to 1933 (the volumes start from roughly September). This one features no covers or adverts reproduced, and judging by the contents the quantity of factual articles, sage editorial advice, comic strips and amusing snippets had been reduced to almost nothing, a whole issue could seemingly pass without any of those. To make up for this, the quantity of exciting adventure stories was greatly increased. Serials were still the norm, with complete stories appearing in every issue. The number of illustrations, especially in the complete stories, was greatly increased too.

The reason for the apparent vanishing of the factual articles and such-like may be down to the fact this is a bound annual sold by the publisher, and not the individual issues. The articles may have been left out, providing only the stories. Or else the page count of the issues themselves may have been drastically reduced. The reasons for this are not too hard to work out – by this time Chums was published by the Amalgamated Press, presumably they had bought Cassell & co. out, and they wanted to run this “rival” into the ground. Or else sales were just dropping off anyway. That said the paper did seemingly continue into 1941 (so says a book i have), so perhaps it avoided “Graveyard week”. I bet the final volume, with inevitable war stories, makes fascinating reading! Another interesting note is that Chums’ seeming ‘main rival’, the Boys’ Friend, had actually vanished in 1927 (though if you ask me, from the limited exposure i have had to both, the Boys’ Friend was better!).

(Also – from the brief flick i had it appears that none of the AP staple characters of Bunter & co., Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee etc appared in Chums. I did notice the familiar styles of Eric Parker, illustrator to Sexton Blake’s golden age, illustrating a story though)

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The spines. Actually a terrible pic but you can just make out the publisher’s names – as well as the shiny new card of my home-made repairs to the 1907 volume. The spine was just a sheet of cloth and some very crumbly 101-year-old card when i recieved it.

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Two typical spreads, the short factual articles and anecdotes are now reduced to tiny box-outs that can be ignored. Comic strips are replaced by single “gag panels” too (not that the 1907 volume didn’t feature those in great number too, but in the 1933 one they are rarely seen at all). The rest of it is wall-to-wall swashbuckling adventure! The choice of these two spreads was actually not brilliant, as there’s hardly any pictures. They are a lot more common in this volume though – honestly!

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Another thing that is a great deal more common in the 1933 volume is coloured plates. Some do appear in the 1907 volume though, and not in an “even pattern” either, so it’s probable that they were lost (i’m sure there’s the odd page missing too, i havent read a great deal of it yet. Despite immense quantites of PVA glue not all the pages are attached). In the 1933 volume though they are all present. I don’t know if they were sold with odd issues of the weekly paper (Chatterbox was apparently often sold with an optional plate – and only some of these plates appeared in the published annuals, meaning private-bound volumes had more) or just specific to the annuals. Photographs seem to only appear on the rear of the coloured plates too, and not in the actual comics. 

The content of the adventure stories in the 1933 volumes has two overriding themes when you turn to a random page. Flight is the first, the 20’s and early 30’s being a golden age of aerial navigation, without ground control or radar anybody who could afford a flying-machine could take to the skies whenever the fancy took them, and charge about at leisure. A close encounter with another aeronaut being the occasion for a friendly wave and maybe a little stunt display – and not terrified screams from air-traffic control, perhaps the scrambling of fighters and a front-page headline “NEAR MISS DEATH MANIAC! – It wouldn’t have happened if we all had ID cards” on every paper the following day.

The other common theme is war, most especially “The World War”. The stories are somewhere between later reflections on the horrors of the trenches, and the stories of “Let’s get ’em! hurry up it’ll be over by christmas (notice we don’t say what christmas)!” that appeared during the conflict. So whilst the stories still provide the right amount of thrilling adventure and characters devoted to duty and doing everything they can to fight the enemy so long as they have breath in thier body, the tales still muse on the horrible toll, and the fact that not all of your friends, or you, will ever return home. Which if you ask me is the perfect balance – because if you want realism, go outside.

As an aside, just look at the picture below, taken from the very last complete story in the book – wouldn’t look out of place in Charley’s War, would it?

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A final oft-seen theme in the book, primarily in serial form, is the boarding school story. This was, after all, the age of the Magnet and Gem. No obvious Charles Hamilton spotted… but he had his hands full writing for the Magnet, Gem, Penny Popular and who knows what else each week. So i doubt there is any.

Another interesting thing that appeared in the 1907 volume is this fold-out coloured plate, that was just tucked in near the back. It appears to be from the Boys’ Own Paper? I might frame it one day, even with that crease.

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One Comment

  1. To whom it may concern,

    You might find the following facebook page of interest, I’ve put a link to your page on it

    William Murray Graydon and Boys Adventure Novels/Authors
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108519079188255&ref=mf

    I’m also interested in early 20th century story papers, not so much from a collecting standpoint, but from tracking down stories/novels by William Murray Graydon (1864-1946) a major contributor to the Sexton Blake saga, as well as being widely published in Union Jack, Boys’ Realm, Boys’ Friend, etc.

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