Godey's Arm Chair: An Overview

Each month Godey would regale his readers with the latest updates on the success of the Lady's Book, a description of the engravings, quotes from letters he had received, comments on the fiction for the month, as well as reminders about how to contact the editors and how to subscribe; in short, anything and everything that he felt might be of interest or amusement for his readers. These comments generally filled five or six pages.

Certain paragraphs relating to the "administrivia" of the magazine became standard. He would always praise the plates and engravings, calling each month's effort the best yet and promising even better samples in the future. He would always caution:

THOSE REMITTING MONEY.--Don't depend upon the adhesive matter on the envelopes; always use a wafer in addition.

Godey was quite adamant about the registered letter. He warned his readers often that the word "Registered" on the outside of a letter was an open acknowledgement to thieves that money was enclosed. He suggested they forego this method of sending mail. To ad validity to the warning he would reprint stories from newspapers around the country of Post Offices that had been burglarized with registered letters being the only things stolen.

Warnings about postage also appear frequently, both a request to readers to include postage for return letters if they expect answers, and a warning that they ensure they are not being overcharged for postage on the Book. Despite the 1852 regulations that allowed magazine publishers to absorb the cost of mailing their volumes, Godey's subscribers paid their own postage. In 1855 Godey announced that the Book weighed slightly less than originally measured so that postage should only be 4 1/2 cents for three months. He recommended that "Subscribers will therefore please resist any attempt made to extort more postage than the above extract from the post-office laws call for." He had one caution for his subscribers when dealing with the Post Office: "Having received several complaints from our subscribers that they are not allowed the benefit of prepayment quarterly, we give the following extract from the last "Post-Office Book," page 6" "Quarterly payments in advance may be made, either at the mailing office or the office of delivery." Signed James Campbell, P.M.G." Godey recommended that any of these difficulties would best be handled by sending a letter to that gentleman.

The sale of the Book also occupied a place in the Arm Chair section. Godey encouraged his readers to "make up your clubs" according to the terms published. Clubs were simply groups of people who, when subscribing as a group, could receive a free issue. He reiterated that clubs were so easy to start as the Lady's Book was so universally enjoyed. Terms were printed on the back of each issue and were:

One year, one copy. . .$3.00
Two copies, one year. . .5.00
Three copies, one year. . .7.50
Four copies, one year. . .10.00
Five copies, one year, and an extra copy to the persons getting up the club,making six copies. . .14.00
Eight copies, one year, and an extra copy to the person getting up the club, making nine copies. . .21.00
Eleven copies, one year, and an extra copy to the person getting up the club, making twelve copies. . .27.50

Godey also offered to "club" the book with other magazines at a reduced rate. For example, during much of this period a subscriber could order the Book and Arthur's Home Magazine, which normally sold for $2.00 a year, at a combined price of $3.50 a year. These prices remained constant throughout this period with the brief exception of a short period during the war when the price went to $3.50 to help cover the exorbitant price of paper. (It should be noted that Godey's was printed on rag paper, the main ingredient of which was cotton.)

These clubs appear to have been quite successful and Godey recounts towards the end of each year how many club requests have been received to date.

His praise was not reserved for the Book alone. As can be seen by the club offering above he had a long-standing business relationship and friendship with T.S. Arthur. He often included reviews praising Arthur's magazine, reviews of his books appear in the "Literary Table" section, and Arthur frequently contributed stories to the Book. Godey was as quick to condemn any magazine that he felt was not "playing fair." He chides other magazines for printing stories from the Book without due credit (a surprising attitude, perhaps, in one who spent his early years in the industry as a "scissors editor") and disingenuously wonders aloud why the editor of Harper's has decided to name his editorial section the "Easy Chair." However, for the most part his relationship with other editors appears to have been amicable. Indeed, in the March 1856 issue he devotes nine pages to the proceedings of a dinner given in his honor in November 1855 by a group of friends and colleagues to celebrate the fiftieth volume of the Book. He apologizes to the readers for "presuming too much upon their goodwill" by printing the entire proceedings, but hopes that "we have received too many good indicators of the cordial regard of our readers, to doubt that what was so eminently gratifying to us, will also be gratifying to them." If he received any letters that would indicate otherwise he did not print them. He was also invited to be the Treasurer of the newly formed Pennsylvania Editorial Union in 1858.

Godey was fond of reminding his readers that the Book was an essential part of their lives, and readers responded in a like vein. He printed many letters of anecdotes describing how the Book had saved or improved marriages, made women's lives easier, helped with child rearing, and saved the family money. One letter told the story of how, in an effort to economize, a husband stopped the subscription to the Book. At the end of the quarter his wife presented him with the bill for all the items that she had had to purchase instead of make because she no longer had Godey's wonderful receipts and patterns. Needless to say the gentleman quickly re-subscribed. Godey reminded his readers of the Book's value by including a paragraph like this:

"Remember the Lady's Book is not a mere luxury; it is a necessity. There is no lady who takes the Book that does not save twice the price of it in a year in the matter of domestic economy. Its receipts, its patterns, its needle-work, its instructions in housekeeping are invaluable to the housekeeper."

In every issue Godey gently reminded readers that Mrs. Hale was not the Fashion Editor. In September 1858 his patience was apparently wearing a little thin as indicated by his statement that "Mrs Hale is not the fashion editor. How often will it be necessary for us to repeat this? Address Fashion Editor, care of L.A. Godey."

However, he was happy to point out that Mrs. Hale was deserving of the lavish praise she received from her readers and encouraged subscribers to also buy her books. These included recipe books ('5354 Receipts for the Home"), her poetry collections and her other publications. He also had high praise for the school run by her daughter and namesake and never failed, while the school was in operation, to devote a large portion of one column to it. Indeed, he later was able to more personally recommend the school when his own daughter attended.

Godey, together with the Fashion Editor, made several offerings in every issue that illustrate just how close a community the Book seemed to foster. Included in almost every issue were offers of:

HAIR ORNAMENTS--Ladies wishing hair made into bracelets, pins (which are very beautiful), necklaces or ear-rings, can be accommodated by our Fashion Editor. A very large number of orders have recently been filled, and the articles have given great satisfaction.
We give the prices at which we will send these beautiful articles:
Breastpins, from $4 to $12
Ear-rings, from $4 50 to $10

In addition to hair jewelry, the Fashion Editor offered to procure infant layettes, and accept commissions to research and purchase "bonnets, material for dresses, jewelry, envelops, worsteds, children's wardrobes, mantillas, and mantelets" to be chosen "with a view to economy as well as taste." Godey even offered to select and arrange for the shipment of pianos! These offers were accepted by many, and each month a shorthand list of commissions received and fulfilled was supplied. For example, the September 1858 issue contained 71 of these notices, a few of which are presented here:

"Mrs. J.A.H." --Sent patterns June 17th.
"Mrs. K.L.C."--Sent infant's wardrobe by Wells & Fargo express 17th.
"G.A.T."--Sent Douglas & Sherwood's Skirt by Adam's express 22nd [Note: the skirt referred to is one of a number of hoop and hoop/petticoat combinations designed by Mssrs. D & S and highlighted in the "Work Department" or fashion section of the Book. They were evidently popular as twenty-one of them were sent that month.]
"D.R."--sent hair fob chain 16th.
"Clara Augusta"--It will cost $10 as it has to be imported.

The range of subjects Godey covered from the Arm Chair must have contained something for every subscriber. From poetry to travelogues of railway excursions, from recipes to hair dye recommendations, and from satirical comments about people who talk during the opera to quotes on things to consider when raising a child, Godey provided a wide-ranging look at his fellow citizens and their daily concerns.

Godey's Lady's Book: Samples Collection
Created and copyright by Hope Greenberg. Created/updated: March 1995/September 2001.