Toronto Public Library Homepage

One of the treasures of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy is our extensive collection of pulp magazines. These early, popular magazines are so named because they were printed on inexpensive paper made from wood pulp in a process invented in the 1880s.

Pulps

Pulp paper was faster and more cheaply produced than earlier paper because it used acid to soften the wood fibers and hasten the liquefying process. The finished magazines, with their thick pages, ragged untrimmed edges and colourful covers cheaply printed in coal-tar inks, were very affordable for the general public. In contrast, the "slicks," printed on smooth, coated paper, were geared towards the more affluent middle class. Both pulps and slicks were extremely popular as entertainment at the turn of the last century. From the 1880s onward, fiction magazines of many genres and subject areas were produced by the thousands and sold for pennies per issue. Population growth and an increase in general literacy, with no cinema or television on the scene, contributed to this trend.

The acid present in pulp paper continues to break down the wood fibers in the paper as time passes, making it difficult to preserve them in good condition. Pulp magazines that have been preserved to this day are generally very fragile, as the paper becomes dark and brittle. Our pulp magazines are carefully stored in acid-free storage boxes, in temperature- and humidity- controlled areas, to slow down this deterioration.

The popularity of science fiction in the 1920s led to the establishment of pulp magazines dedicated solely to science fiction stories. The first such magazine, called Amazing Stories, was published by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. Other early titles were: Astounding Stories, Science Wonder Stories, Air Wonder Stories, and Scientific Detective Monthly. Many more titles appeared in 1939 and continued throughout the 1940s: Astounding, Fantastic Adventures, Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and Weird Tales. The magazine boom gave way to an explosion of paperback book publishing in the 1950s. Even so, science fiction periodicals such as Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction, as well as newer Canadian titles On Spec and Challenging Destiny, are still being published today.

The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy has a substantial number of these early magazines, including the following titles: