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The origins of The New Yorker’s dandy mascot

And here is the very first issue of The New Yorker, published on February 21, 1925. Our friends at Appledore Books just listed this copy for sale on AbeBooks priced at $2,500. For collectors of ephemera, this is a highly prized item – a little piece of magazine and journalism history. The famous cover illustration features dandy Eustace Tilley created by Rea Irvin. Tilley, of course, is the magazine’s mascot – well known for that top hat and monocle – and is familiar to anyone who has read away the hours in a dentist waiting room.

Eustace Tilley on the maiden issue of The New Yorker

Irvin was The New Yorker’s first art editor, who also designed the famous New Yorker font. Tilley began as a character in a series of spoof humor articles by Corey Ford that was intended to provide an insight into the making of the magazine itself.

The articles also had another purpose during that rocky first year of the magazine:

Ford’s pieces were commissioned so that there would be something to run on pages that advertisers were not buying. Advertisers were not buying because they were not sure what The New Yorker was. Neither were the editors. The second issue ran a mock apology for the first. “There didn’t seem to be much indication of purpose and we felt sort of naked in our apparent aimlessness,” the magazine confessed. It knew its audience, which was educated, reasonably well-off New Yorkers. It just didn’t know how to reach them. Circulation began to drop; by fall, it stood at around twelve thousand, and the publisher nearly pulled out. Then things picked up. Janet Flanner and Lois Long, a fashion writer, joined the magazine, along with the editor Katharine Angell. Advertising deals were signed with Saks and B. Altman department stores. In 1926, E. B. White came aboard, and, a year later, he brought James Thurber along. The knowingness and the name-dropping that characterized the early issues disappeared. And Eustace Tilley has shown up on almost every anniversary cover since.

Irvin was inspired to create Tilley after seeing a drawing of a Count D’Orsay – a true Victorian dandy and fashionable man about town – that he spotted in Encyclopædia Britannica. Over the years, artists at The New Yorker have used Tilley to riff on all sorts of subjects – there have been female, black and punk interpretations of Tilley.

When The New Yorker turned 90 in 2015, the magazine printed nine different covers featuring modern renditions of its mascot. I like the one of Eustace bent over his smartphone. This old man, the dandy about town, is here to stay.

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