The Mentor magazine is an obscure vintage magazine for several reasons: The creator’s intentions, its various incarnations, and rather shoddy historical record (it is not listed in the National Union Catalogue of Periodicals).
The publication begins with William David Moffat. Moffat attended Princeton; while in school he has several works published, mostly sports stories for boys under the name William D. Moffat. Upon his graduation in 1884, he went to work for Scribner’s where he’d stay for two decades, working his way up from sales, to the education department and finally the business manager for The Book Buyer and Scribner’s Magazine. In 1905 he leaves Scribner to form his own publishing house, Moffat, Yard & Company, with fellow Princeton alum Robert S. Yard. By June of 1912, Yard was no longer active in the company, and Moffat, Yard & Co. announced it was moving in to share the offices of another publishing house, John Lane Company. While this was said not to be a true merger, but rather a shared management and expenses sort of a thing, it is at this time that Moffat begins The Mentor Association.
The Mentor Association is rather like Moffat’s attempt at a think tank. He gathers men who were specialists in their area and, with himself as editor, they proceed to share their information in a publication so that persons might “learn one thing every day.” This publication was The Mentor. Here’s how the association and publication were described (taken from The Mentor, Volume I, Number 38, November 3, 1913):
The purpose of The Mentor Association is to give people, in an interesting and attractive way, the information in various fields of knowledge that they all want and ought to have. The information is imparted by interesting reading matter, prepared under the direction of leading authors, and by beautiful pictures, produced by the most highly perfected modern processes.
The object of The Mentor Association is to enable people to acquire useful knowledge without effort, so that they may come easily and agreeably to know the world s great men and women, the great achievements, and the permanently interesting things in art, literature, science, history, nature and travel.
…We want The Mentor to be regarded as a companion. It has often been said that books are friends. We give you in The Mentor the good things out of many books, and in a form that is easy to read and that taxes you little for time. A library is a valuable thing to have if you know how to use it. But there are not many people who know how to use a library. If you are one of those who don t know, it would certainly be worth your while to have a friend who could take from a large library just what you want to know and give it to you in a pleasant way. The Mentor can be such a friend to you.
And since the word “library” has been used, let us follow that just a bit further. The Mentor may well become yourself in library form. Does that statement seem odd? Then let us put it this way: The Mentor is a cumulative library for you, each day, each week a library that grows and develops as you grow and develop a library that has in it just the things that you want to know and ought to know and nothing else. Day by day and week by week you add with each number of The Mentor something to your mental growth. You add it as you add to your stature by healthy development; and the knowledge that you acquire in this natural, agreeable way becomes a permanent possession. You gather weekly what you want to know, and you have it in an attractive, convenient form. It be comes thus, in every sense, your library, containing the varied things that you know. And you have its information and its beautiful pictures always ready to hand to refer to and to refresh your mind.
So in time your assembled numbers of The Mentor will represent in printed and pictorial form the fullness of your own knowledge.
It is also in this issue, that The Mentor gets a new look:
We have chosen this cover after a number of experiments. It has not been an easy matter to settle. The Mentor, as we have stated more than once, is not simply a magazine. It does not call for the usual magazine cover treatment. What we have always wanted and have always sought for from the beginning has been a cover that would express, in the features of its design, the quality of the publication. In the endeavor to make clear by dignified design the educational value and importance of The Mentor, the tendency would be to lead on to academic severity and that we desire least of all. On the other hand, it would be manifestly inappropriate to wear a coat of many colors. The position of The Mentor in the field of publication is peculiar its interest unique. How best could its character be expressed in decorative design?
We believe that Mr. Edwards has given us in the present cover a fitting expression of the character of The Mentor. It is unusual in its lines that is, for a periodical. It has the quality of a fine book cover design at least so we think. It will, we believe, invite readers of taste and intelligence to look inside The Mentor, and as experience has taught us, an introduction
to The Mentor usually leads on to continued acquaintance.
Originally The Mentor was a weekly, published by the Associated Newspaper School, Inc. (New York City) and hardly more than a pamphlet or folio; a dozen or so pages with “exquisite intaglio gravures” loose inside. (The fact that these images were not bound in the publication means issues are often found incomplete.) Each slim issue was on a specific theme and there were tie-ins with newspapers, adding to The Mentor‘s educational publication feel.
From a practical standpoint, the narrow focus of each theme likely complicated or limited the periodical’s circulation numbers. It’s one thing to say your publication is “an institution of learning established for the development of a popular interest in art, literature, science, history, nature, and travel,” but with such issue-specific themes, readers may have done what collectors who spot copies do today: Pending the theme, either fell in love or turned up their noses and eschewed the entire publication.
(Most collectors seem to covet The Mentor on an issue by issue basis; seeking out the single issue the theme of which suits their collecting interest, or coveting the January 1929 issue on Famous Collectors & Collecting.)
Perhaps this is why in its second year, The Mentor ceases weekly publication and lowers costs by being published only twice a month.(Subscription fees change from $5 to $3 a year.) It still retains the single theme per issue, but perhaps the frequency of publication change is also seen as a better way to market itself. It is also at this time that the publisher is changed from Associated Newspaper School to The Mentor Association.
By mid-1919 wartime inflation would forced the price of subscriptions to The Mentor to increase to $4 per year — but bigger changes were coming.
It was during this time that The Mentor becomes a monthly and introduces more color on the covers.
In the October 1920 issue, the magazine increased the number of pages to 40 and, finally, the six gravure pictures were bound into the center of the magazine, becoming numbered pages in each issue. It is also at this time that The Mentor softens its strict each-issue-devoted-to-a-theme stance, allowing the last five pages of each issue to free of the main topic.
In 1921, The Mentor is purchased by Crowell Publishing Co. with W. D. Moffat remaining on as editor. There are no noted changes until the August 1922 issue’s page size increase. (By the April 1927 issue, the page size of The Mentor would grow to the same size as that time’s Atlantic Monthly.)
In 1929, the 63 year old Moffat is ready to retire as editor of The Mentor. It is in this news bit from Time magazine (August 19, 1929) announcing the change, that we get more insight into the Moffat’s intentions and legacy:
Editor Moffat never aimed at mass-circulation. Even when mass-circularizing Crowell Publishing Co. (American Magazine, Colliers, Woman’s Home Companion) bought The Mentor in 1920, it did not commercialize original Mentor ideals, but retained Editor Moffat, continued to please the 50,000, the 70,000, finally the 100,000 who liked The Mentor for what it was.
And now is when the magazine changes significantly; as reported in that same Time article:
Starting with the next (September) issue, The Mentor will no longer have a theme-subject. Instead there will be articles on many a different topic, by such authors as Walter Davenport, W. E. Woodward, Margaret Widdemer, Will Durant. There will be seven four-color pages in place of rotogravure; a cover in the “modern manner”; a history of tennis by William Tatem Tilden, 2nd; a history of dog fashions by Albert Payson Terhune.
To make The Mentor youthful, Crowell Publishing Co. has put a youthful man in the editorship, Hugh Anthony Leamy, just past 30, round-faced, amiable, onetime New York Sun reporter, for the last three years an associate editor of Collier’s. About The Mentor, what its plans are, he will talk with hopeful enthusiasm. About new Editor Leamy he is reticent. “I’m still an untried man at this job,” he explains. “But The Mentor? Well, you know, we thought it best to go through with a big change all at once to keep it up with the changing times. . . . You might call the new Mentor a nonfiction, up-to-date magazine for people who want to learn about various matters, but who want to be amused at the same time—not bored.”
Now The Mentor is printed in the style of that period’s Vanity Fair; from the slick paper and illustrative appearance to the “modern” and “amusing” content, including fiction.
But the dumbing-down and dressing-up didn’t help circulation any; as Time reported in April 21, 1930:
Crowell Publishing Co. employes found an announcement on their bulletin board one morning last week, which read: “The Company has sold The Mentor to the World Traveler Magazine Corp. — George R. Martin, publisher.† They will assume the publishing of The Mentor, beginning with the June 1930 issue. We have become convinced that The Mentor will have a much better opportunity if handled by a publisher equipped to take care of the smaller units. Here we are fully and thoroughly geared up to handle large units and it has become difficult to give The Mentor the necessary small unit attention. We feel that Mr. Martin and his organization are equipped to continue The Mentor successfully.”
…Although the magazine’s circulation reached 85,000, it became apparent that it would never pull in harness with its whopping big Crowell team-mates—Woman’s Home Companion, Collier’s, The Country Home (onetime Farm & Fireside), The American Magazine — whose combined circulation is over 8,500,000.
To World Traveler, the Mentor went lock, stock & barrel—with the exception of Editor Leamy.
…Publisher Martin contemplates fusing his old magazine with his new, placing the amalgam under the direction of World Traveler’s Editor Charles P. Norcross, now junketing in the Orient. Because World Traveler has about one-fourth of its stablemate’s distribution, and because when two magazines combine one inevitably swallows the other, publishers guessed that the ever-mutating Mentor would be the one to endure.
† Not to be confused with George Martin, one-time (1918—29) editor of Crowell’s Farm & Fireside.
The publications were combined as The Mentor — World Traveller and given a new look, the pages enlarged to slightly larger than the size of Life magazine. But contrary to what the publishers in that 1930 Time magazine article said, The Mentor doesn’t seem to be the one to have endured. Nor did the The Mentor — World Traveller.
According to Paul W. Healy in The Ecphorizer:
As an indication that the end was not far off, the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature stopped indexing the magazine in December 1930. My last issue is January 1931; I have reason to believe it was the last published.
If you have anything to add to The Mentor story, please let us know!