St. Nicholas Origins Blog

My book, St. Nicholas an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, was published by Scribner & Co. in New York, New York in 1881. The idea was pitched to Scriber publishing house by a man named Dr. Josiah Gilbert Holland who was an American poet and novelist with the idea of writing a magazine for children with the same quality of writing as Scribner’s Monthly for adults. Scribner’s was a popular publishing company at the time most famous for publishing the Scribner’s Magazine that ran from 1887 to 1936 and was the first magazine ever to include color illustrations and engravings from some very influential artists. Unlike Scribner’s Magazine, my editions of St. Nicholas an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks from 1881 did not yet include colored illustrations but they do feature work from the same artists. Scribner & Co. is still around today but they are now a division of Simon & Schuster labelled Scribner Publishing Group. Scribner & Co. contracted Francis Hart & Co. to print the book for them. In 1859 Theodore Low De Vinne became a partner at Francis Hart & Co. and began to change the face of the company which would end up landing them the job of printing St. Nicholas an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks and later Scribner’s Magazine. Before De Vinne began working for Francis Hart & Co. the printing press primarily focused on printing for people of legal professions but when De Vinne took over he “widened its scope and began to achieve a reputation for quality” says Michael Koenig in an article about De Vinne. After printing St. Nicholas an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks  Scribner’s asked Francis Hart & Co. to print Scribner’s Magazine which was renowned by Mott’s History of American Magazines as “the best printed magazine in the world”. Francis Hart died in 1883 and Theodore Low De Vinne bought the rest of the company and renamed it Theodore L. De Vinne and Company until his retirement in 1908.

Being that it was such a successful magazine it attracted some of the most popular authors and artists of the time. The magazines editor was Mary Mapes Dodge a famous children’s author at the time. Dodge came up with the name which she got from St. Nicholas the children’s saint who was known for love and giving. After the death of her husband Dodge began writing children’s stories as a way to support her family and put her two sons through college. Dodge was known for two children’s books she had written, Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates. Dodge was an excellent choice for editor because he fame in the world of children’s books made it easy for her to attract some very famous writers to contribute to the magazine. In fact she convinced Rudyard Kipling to write a story he had come up with that takes place in the Indian Jungle for the magazine which would be later known as The Jungle Book. Dodge’s editorial policy was the following,

“To give clean, genuine fun to children of all ages.To give them examples of the finest types of boyhood and girlhood. To inspire them with an appreciation of fine pictorial art. To cultivate the imagination in profitable directions. To foster a love of country, home, nature, truth, beauty, and sincerity. To prepare boys and girls for life as it is. To stimulate their ambitions–but along normally progressive lines. To keep pace with a fast-moving world in all its activities. To give reading matter which every parent may pass to his children unhesitatingly.”

The editors of Flying Dreams state that this makes it one of the first children’s magazines who didn’t have the objective of overtly teaching children about how to be good but instead Dodge wanted to teach these lessons her way, “no old jokes, no sermonizing, no dwelling on hard facts” instead she wanted it to be a “child’s playground; where children could be delighted as well as be in charge.”

St. Nicholas an Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks served as the televisions we all grew up with, they would take America’s youth all over the country and even the world through illustrations and stories. It featured illustrations of cities around the globe as well biographies and stories about american heroes, foreign monarchs, famous inventors, musicians, artists, explorers, and intellectuals.