Vintage Magazine

Text Sam Bern
Photograpy Jørn Tomter /

First published in ILCR issue 7 2018

Just off Homerton High Street is one of the biggest magazine archives in Europe. Vinmag was founded 40 years ago by Danny Posner and the doors have since been open to the public, curious to see its contents. Unfortunately, the archive will be leaving Homerton next year due to rising business rates, so ILCR head honcho Jørn and I jumped on the opportunity to get a final glimpse inside, though Posner himself was too ill to be our tour guide.

Stepping into the archive is an overwhelming experience, and, according to Associate Director Nick, it’s a pretty typical reaction. “We often have artists who turn up to do research but haven’t thought hard about what they want. They start looking through things, it gets too much and they have to go. They leave to have a think, then come back a few weeks later when it’s more focused. The trick is to have a strong idea.”

Within the first five minutes of being there, I pick up a rare Beano annual I owned when I was five, spot some classic ‘50s film posters and stumble upon some books on ‘spanking’, which were recently donated by a couple. “They called up and asked if we wanted them,” explains Nick. “I accepted, so now we have loads of them!” We flick through the pages, noticing questionable themes surrounding public school and petulance.

I ask Nick if he finds it bewildering being around all these magazines from different eras. “I don’t really think of it like that, really. I’m just interested in stuff. Not because of the age, but because I’ve got an interest, like Sci-Fi and music. We handle things from 1897 to 2002 on an average day. I’m still discovering things, like those posters.” He gestures to some huge ‘50s posters for a Sci-Fi film called The Green Slime. “I’ve been here for 18 years and the first time I saw them was yesterday.”

On the ground floor, duplicate items are up for sale. There are piles of posters and magazines everywhere: a folder containing issues of Punch (a popular Victorian weekly), ‘90s editions of What Hi-Fi, VHS promo posters for the Lion King and a selection of ‘70s jokebooks. “This stuff was meant to be chucked away,” says Nick. “That’s the beauty of this archive. It was meant to be pulped.”

Upstairs is a place for calm and contemplation, quite the contrast to the noise of downstairs. Floor-to-ceiling shelves hold millions of magazines – TV Guide, Werewolves and other notable titles - in an ordered system that would make little sense to most but is clearly second-nature to Nick. He works alongside colleague Jeanette Aranda in this area of the archive. “Jeanette uploads to our website and eBay, and I sort out what things need to be sold and what needs to be kept.”

I ask him how the eclectic mix of posters hanging on the office walls came to be, and he explains they were simply visuals he liked. “I love The Fog. I change them around when I find something new or if I sell them. These are currently up for sale on the website.” Seeing posters for independent films prompts a pang of nostalgia, as nowadays, with online movie banks such as Netflix, physical promo seems to be reserved solely for large releases from big names like Marvel and Disney. In many ways, the archive reflects how entertainment has retreated to living rooms; many of these magazines have been replaced by websites, many of these films wouldn’t have received a poster campaign if they’d been released today.

The most popular magazines, Nick says, are those on music, fashion and literature. “The Beat Generation, Sci-Fi shorts, The Encounter, Transatlantic Review. This stuff is less available on the internet. I’ve never been offered it. I get offered the same thing every day – ‘90s copies of Sky and Arena, but who wants it?” Then, of course, there are the priceless, rare items. “I found an original King Kong pamphlet from the ‘30s in the archive! That’s something that shouldn’t still exist, especially in the great condition we’ve got it.”

It’s clear to see Nick’s passion for the archive. As we move to a bookshelf behind his desk, he takes out and considers aloud an American art magazine called Avant Garde. “It deals with photography and art and film. It’s a beautiful magazine.” I ask him if he has any other personal favourites. “There are a couple of things I’ve got stored away. An old British coal mining poster, some original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles artwork and a German circus poster from the early 20th century. I’ve never found these things online, they feel very rare.”

Although the archive’s doors will be closing, vintage magazine fiends need fear not because this summer, Vinmag are showing at Somerset House’s Print! Tearing It Up exhibition. “I’m putting out a selection of cool UK publications, Viz - not Viz the comic - a fashion magazine from the ‘70s, Cinema Rising, and Street Life, a ‘70s music paper that we’ve only got three out of eight issues.”

At this point, Jørn excitedly rushes in holding a copy of Life magazine from June 19th 1944. “I think this is the one with Robert Capa's pictures of the D-Day landing,” he says. We open the plastic envelope and carefully remove the magazine to find the blurry black and white photos of soldiers running from boats, through the sea and on to the beach to liberate a war-torn France. The magazine is over 70 years old but looks like it could have been printed last month – that’s how well-kept these publications really are. Unsurprisingly, Jørn buys the magazine and we leave, musing over the magic of the exceptional, soon-to-be-gone archive.

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