What if I told you there was a magnificent collection of tens of thousands of magazines in a former cannon foundry outside London?
Okay, now that everybody except the tried and true magazine heads—the secret fraternal order of people who’ve got stacks of yellowed magazines hidden under their beds—has closed this tab, let’s talk about this New York Times visit to the Hyman Archive, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest private magazine collection. It contains around 160,000 magazines, most of which have never been digitized. I have perhaps never seen a more perfect rendered image of literal heaven. To me, this is a lush painting on a Vatican ceiling full of billowing clouds and gamboling cherubs.
It started as the personal collection of James Hyman, who began amassing magazines as a resource while working at MTV Europe in the 1990s. Which is funny to me, personally, because my own magazine collecting began “for work,” even thought that quickly became a totally bogus excuse to buy anything cool.
“I always knew it was a cultural resource and that there was value in it,” Hyman told the Times, but he was glad to have the Guinness imprimatur,“because then people might take it more seriously than just thinking: ‘Some lunatic’s got a warehouse full of magazines.’”
But come on—who could fail to instantly appreciate this majesty?
The archive is still peppered with periodicals from the MTV days, marked “James.” To illustrate the point, Mr. Hyman, 47, pulled from the shelves a 1995 issue of the defunct FactSheet5 — “The definitive guide to the zine revolution” — with his name scrawled on the cover in black marker. After all these years, Mr. Hyman is still intimately familiar with its contents. “This is a phenomenal publication. It listed zines, just a quirky catalog that reviewed fringe zines. It was sick,” he said, before seeking out and indicating a surprisingly positive review of a zine dedicated entirely to its founder’s genitals.
During a recent visit, Mr. Hyman showed a reporter some of the titles and design elements he considers particularly important, including fake ads from Mad magazine trolling the cigarette industry; Kate Moss’s first cover (The Face, July 1990); The Notorious B.I.G.’s first appearance in The Source (March 1992); Rihanna on the cover of the first free issue of New Musical Express (September 2015) and a hacking magazine from 1984 called 2600, which, Mr. Hyman said, “is the frequency you used to use to get free calls if you blow your Cap’n Crunch whistle down the phone line,” and lists all of the direct phone extensions in the Reagan White House.
For the archivists, “weird” is the highest praise. They’re fascinated by the ads in a copy of Family Circle from 1974, and a cereal-box-shaped Select magazine from January 1997 — dedicated ironically to the year 1996 — occupies pride of place above their desk, despite a Jolly Rancher candy that came with the magazine having melted inside it.
Hyman is currently seeking funding for his digitization efforts. Won’t somebody help this man digitize heaven?!