In his article for the October 1954 issue of American Artist magazine, Fred C. Rodewald writes, "Another important outlet for the artist is the magazine field. Here prices paid may not be quite so high as those in advertising, but many artist feel that this disadvantage is more than offset by the prestige that magazine work gives them, as well as by the fact that editorial art is usually more interesting to do.
Certainly illustrators of the calibre of Austin Briggs would have agreed with Rodewald. If he was paid much less than he would have been by advertising clients, it never deterred him from taking magazine assignments. For the illustrator and the magazine, there was always a mutually beneficial arrangement. Both enjoyed greater cachet with the public when they were in each other's company.
And in fact, at least some artists were able to make an astoundingly lavish income from magazine work. Just last night, illustrator Murray Tinkelman, who teaches an MFA Illustration program at Hartford University, graciously sent along an excerpt from the minutes of a 1936 Society of Illustrators meeting. Just look at some of the following figures and consider these numbers in modern dollars:
"From $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 a year is being paid to illustrators by these ten mags:
SEP, Collier's, Liberty, Cosmo, American Mag, Good House, Ladies HJ, McCalls, Womans HC."
"From 20 to 25 men and women are making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year. From 50 to 75 men are making between $25,000 and $40,000. 100 are making $15,000 to $20,000"
Harrison Fisher, $3,000 per cover Cosmo.
McMein, $2,500 per cover McCalls.
Rockwell, $2,500 per cover.
"10 men get $1,200 to $2,000 per single illus."
Of course these astonishing figures are a reflection of a time when magazines ruled the media with weekly circulations in the millions and hundreds of national advertisers taking full and double page spreads in every issue. By the late 50's and early 60's, with the erosion of ad revenue brought on by television's rise, prices seem to have begun their decline.
Murray tells me he received $1,000 for a full page illustration in The Post in 1963, and Mitchell Hooks spoke about getting only around $300 a page when his work began appearing there in the late 50's. Prices, it seems, were not standardized and were tied to some extent to the stature of the illustrator (a Coby Whitmore or a Joe De Mers would command top dollar) and the art director's perception of the 'value' of the artwork (Murray explains that paintings done by the 'clinch' artists paid better than humorous/decorative stylized artwork of the sort he was doing).
But whether the work was in the hundreds of dollars or several thousand, a dollar back then went a lot farther than it does today.
When Anita Virgil wrote about her late husband Andy receiving a 12 month commission from McCall's in 1959, she said he was contracted at a rate of $1,250 - $2,000 per illustration. That contract gave the young couple the confidence to purchase a house in the New Jersey countryside and begin a family.
While a commission of that sort would be nice even today, would anyone actually see it as a catalyst for securing a mortgage?
I can only use coffee shop wisdom to guess at how much the value of a dollar has shifted in half a century, but look at it this way: in the 1950's a candy bar was ten cents. Today, that same candy bar costs a dollar. Then, a new car could be had for, say, three thousand dollars. Today, a new car might easily cost thirty thousand. And back then, a house that sold for thirty thousand dollars would probably sell today for three hundred thousand dollars.
If you accept my logic, it would not be unusual for a modern day double page spread magazine illustration to fetch ten to twenty thousand dollars.
Has anyone reading this ever received that kind of money for your work?
From personal experience (and admittedly, my experience is from the Canadian market - a smaller market than the States) I have never received more than $1,500 for magazine work.
Or to put it in 1950's terms, a hundred and fifty bucks.
Tomorrow: The Book Market
*Many thanks to Murray Tinkelman for his invaluable assistance with today's post.