CONFESSIONS OF A MAG SWAPPER

By: David Gentle

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master



          Oh Well, it made you look for a moment, Which is all I am asking of you. Now I will pose a question. Don't you think that if you are going to spend so much time and effort in your life training with weights, that you owe it to the guys that have been before, to learn something of the history of your chosen recreation? Most kids who follow football can give you masses of information about players and football statistics off the top of their heads. With regret, bodybuilders are often so self-centered that apart from their own immediate problems, they know little or nothing about the pioneers of the Iron Game. A friend of mine, who on most subjects is as thick as two short planks, is an expert on history and can reel off the dates of any King or Queen of England you care to name, with a heap of other information included. The reason he knows so much is because he is a collector of coins or a numismatist. My suggestion to you is to become a collector of items relating to muscle building and strength. Become a muscle mag swapper, a biceps book buyer and a lover of strength lore.
          For me, it started with those American comics. Swapping 'Yanky' comics was big business when I was a boy, and having a constant source of supply from my next door neighbor's father, who worked on the Cunard lines, we were soon able to build up a good collection. Being a skinny kid, fed mainly on bread and jam, it wasn't long before I noticed the adverts for muscle courses which were carried extensively in all the comics. 'Get a New Body in 7 Days', said Charles Atlas, just send off for the free booklet. So we did, and after much impatient waiting, the requested information arrived. Now we were really getting somewhere, not having the money to buy the course, the next step was to try to decipher the 'secrets' of strength from the information given.
          Atlas's booklet kept on about DYNAMIC TENSION, so for weeks we went around in almost a permanent catalistic state, much to the amusement of our then tougher friends. GEORGE JOWETT, who promised me 'HOW TO GET COMMANDO TOUGH', did in fact send out some very useful little booklets, a sort of trial course with free squats and press-ups described and various semi-free exercise, which were quite a good start for training.
          The real breakthrough came when a fellow schoolboy turned up with some actual courses. One was the Atlas course and another by a man whom I later discovered as the largest seller of PC courses by mail, former Editor of Joe Weider's Muscle Power, Earle Liederman. Through a mixture of threats (he hadn't done the courses, so I was safe) and bribing, these courses were obtained, plus several of Liederman's books, namely MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT and SECRETS OF STRENGTH. By now, braver with an arm that, when fully pumped up with press-ups reached 11 inches and boy, what pecs! I next had the courage to by-pass the comics, although somewhat reluctantly, and instead reached out for a shiny yellow magazine called HEALTH AND STRENGTH. Like a 'junky' taking his first fix, from then on I was hooked, and have collected every muscle mag or book I could get my grubby hands on.
          With several books, and a couple of courses, my pile of Health and Strengths began to grow rapidly (they used to be printed regularly every two weeks in the days when H and S had a staff of about 50). I then discovered, in the grottiest area of town, a small shop which specialized in 'naughty' books (Well, they were considered naughty then. I avoided them because I didn't want to go blind). Almost hidden amongst the girly magazines were Joe Weider's YOUR PHYSIQUE and MUSCLE POWER mags, price 2/6p or 12 1/2p. They cost a bit more than that now.
          Soon another pile of mags were growing, with additional mags turning up almost monthly. IRON MAN and Hoffman's STRENGTH AND HEALTH, courtesy of JOHN VALENTINE plus VIGOUR, BODYSCULPTURE and THE WEIGHTLIFTER and BODYBUILDER, which also appeared with excellent regularity at good old W. H. Smiths.
          So it grew (the collection I mean). Adverts were answered, old collections bought and book shops were scoured wherever I went. Results...My wardrobe contains about two suits and literally thousands of muscle mags. The scope for collecting muscle memorabilia is enormous. If you wish, it doesn't have to start from the year dot, or with 'old-time' stuff. Although, to be honest, it makes more sense to start a collection from its earlier beginnings. Seeing, however; that today's happenings will be history tomorrow, you can start anywhere. For example, why not try getting a copy of every different named muscle mag currently in print. The number will surprise you, and it's really interesting to see different countries approach to the muscle business, from small unpretentious mags to large glossy works of art. Do you have a favorite star? Then collect all mag issues with him as cover man. John C. Grimek and Steve Reeves were two former stars featured on dozens of covers and those issues make great collections. Today, you can go for whoever you like collecting, perhaps Zane, Robbo or Mentzer.
          "Of writing books there is no end." I, at first, collected everything on or by Sandow. Books, photo's, articles and objects. There are many good books published now on weight training. You could collect a specific authors works or perhaps an isolated section regarding muscle building. Perhaps you may decide to collect every book possible relating to building muscular arms, you will find there are MANY.
          Photographs are excellent to collect, and fairly cheap albums are obtainable from the drug stores. All comparatively recent stars pics are available from several sources. Muscle courses, especially the older mail order courses, are almost extinct now, with a couple of exceptions. The exceptions are the ones that have stood the test of time and proved to be of value. Naturally, out of date courses are much harder to acquire as few people bother to save things for very long.
          However, they can still be obtained from specialist dealers in muscle collections (not from me, I keep everything, even the wife's family). One excellent bi-product of becoming a collector is the close friendship throughout the exotic World of Muscle Mag Swappers. My range is from Syd Hurst in Australia, Dave Webster in Scotland to Doyle May in Alabama, USA, plus all stops in between.
          Objects like strength trophies, medals and awards etc., are more often expensive to collect. Early medals and trophies were often made of silver and even gold. Some old-time strongmen belts even had precious stones in them, so if you do ever come across any I will be very grateful if you donate them to me...thanks. Oh well, just trying to see if you were concentrating. Actually, it's probable that the rarest items you may come in touch with are books, if you devote a reasonable amount of time searching through second hand book shops and junk stalls.
          Sandow had a magazine called PHYSICAL CULTURE or SANDOW'S MAGAZINE, and beautiful copies of these in real leather bindings with gold leaf embossed are still available if you search. Early McFadden, HEALTH and STRENGTH and APOLLO mags were also printed and bound in fine condition. First editions are naturally best for value, although many books were improved in contents and illustrations in later issues.
          Antique books concerning physical culture start from the age of printing, but the most interesting and useful ones date from the 1850's. Sandow's book, SYSTEM OF PHYSICAL CULTURE was printed in 1894. Many similar books came out in the 1900's. Practical weight training, as we know it, commenced from books written by such men as Thomas Inch, Edward Aston, Bill Pullum (How to use a Barbell) Bankier with IDEAL PHYSICAL CULTURE, Hackensmidth's HOW TO LIVE and so on.
          In the USA, amongst many books were Alan Calvert's SUPER STRENGTH, George Jowett's KEY TO MIGHT AND MUSCLE and the masterpieces of Mark Berry such as PHYSICAL TRAINING SIMPLIFIED and PHYSICAL IMPROVEMENT. Later Bob Hoffman wrote more books than Barbara Cartland, with BIG ARMS, BIG CHEST, SECRETS OF STRENGTH AND DEVELOPMENT, and best of all, HOW TO BE STRONG, HEALTHY AND HAPPY, and those are just some of the earlier classics which you can acquire if you try hard enough.
          Further idea's are to collect PC show programmes, statuettes (try to find the GOLD Sandow one), old time poster advertising strongmen, such as Circuses used to have. Hermann Goerner and William Bankier are just two who had some beautiful posters printed for publicity, and again it doesn't have to be old ones. Once you make a start, your collection will soon grow and so will your knowledge.
          Well that's it from me. I hope that I too have given you some pleasure, advice and information. If just ONE person has decided to have a closer look at the history of our chosen pastime of muscle building, then it has been worth it.

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