The Mercury

WHILE at The New York Times in the mid-20s, Eleanor Fox, my mother, heard about an opening at the American Mercury, which had become the hottest, most sophisticated magazine of the Roaring Twenties.

She got a job as secretary, and there was a lot of typing, but today she would be called “production manager.” She had a big desk at the Fifth Avenue office with a typewriter with four modern rotary desk phones. She handled all the traffic—manuscripts coming into the office and going out to the printer. It was typical in the 1920s for printers to set the type for magazines and books. The Mercury worked with the Haddon Press in Camden, New Jersey, which prided itself on its book work.

Eleanor retyped the edited copy, got the copy reader to check it, marked it up for the printer, put it in the mail, and kept a log of the copy flow. “If we made the 5:00 mail, the third of the day, my packages would get to Camden by 9:00 the next morning,” she said. Haddon would set the type, and send galley proofs by the end of the day:  Forty-hour turnaround.

Eleanor would count lines of type in each story and calculate the number of pages needed. The editors would decide the page count in the issue and then cut the text to fit. Haddon would do corrections,compose stories in pages, and pull proofs. The editors would make final cuts—and a minimum of corrections, in consideration of the deadline, and the cost.

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