Collecting Men's Magazines

Man magazine first appeared on newsagent stands in Australia in December 1936. By today’s standards, the contents of early issues of this distinctly Australian men’s magazine would be considered rather tame. However, its arrival on the market heralded a new era in Australian magazine publishing for men that continues to this day. By Jenny England.

My husband recounts with amusement many afternoons in the 1960s when he was a teenager ‘borrowing’ copies of Man and Playboy (the early American version) from his parent’s newsagency. He would read them overnight and carefully place them back on the stands the next morning in as pristine condition as possible. Fast forward to one afternoon in the mid-1990s when my teenage son ran up to me at a flea market, seeking money to buy some early copies of Australian Playboy from a nearby stall. I casually handed over the money without much comment other than the fact that they might be rather collectable. How times have changed!

Although Man appeared in the late thirties, it was not as if Australian men had been short of reading matter since colonial times. There were many magazines, from the earliest issues of Melbourne Punch in the 1850s, the Australian Journal (first published in 1865) and the Bulletin (established in 1880) to a variety of relatively short-lived magazines such as Humbug (1869 -1870), The Bull-Ant (1890-1892), The Gadfly (1906-1909) and Punch (1924-1925). The iconic Lone Hand that first appeared in 1907 lasted a little longer – until 1927. While most of these early magazines were not specifically targeted directly at men, much of their content could be said to be of more interest to them than the average women of the time. The Australian Journal and the Bulletin were the only magazines of the above to survive the bleak years of the Depression.

When Man arrived, however, it was the first magazine targeted specifically to men and openly suggestive in content. It was published by Kenneth Murray, and what started as a small business over time grew into a large publishing empire. The concept was influenced by Esquire magazine, an American men’s magazine that first appeared in 1933. Man originally sold for two shillings – rather expensive at the time. However, due to Murray’s advertising expertise it quickly became a success with a circulation expanding from 5,000 at the start to 20,000 a year later. By 1946 this had expanded to 100,100 and by 1953 to a staggering 200,000 readers a month.

A long string of derivative magazines came hot on the heels of Man. Man Junior, a pocket-sized version with advertising at the back, first appeared in 1937. Then there were, among many others, The Insider, Cavalcade and Digest of Digests. The first Man Annual came out in 1941. Later on there was Adam in 1946, and in the 1960s Laughs and Lovelies, Face and Figure, Playgirls and Eves from Adam.

Much of the success of Kenneth Murray’s magazines was due to his use of very talented staff and contributors. These included artists such as Jack Gibson, Clifford Barnes and Howard Barron. The work of well-known cartoonists such as Emile Mercier and Hardmuth Lahm (famous for his ‘Snifter’ series) were also featured. Writers included JHM Abbott and Ion Idriess, who edited the Australaiana section for a while. Photographers of note included Max Dupain and Laurence Le Guay. Frank Greenop was invited to become the first editor at the age of 24. He later wrote ‘History of Magazine Publishing in Australia’, (a very sought-after publication) in 1947. Despite its initial success, Man did not survive the onslaught of the more explicit and popular Playboy and Penthouse magazines arriving from overseas. It ceased publication in 1974.

Although not directly targeted to men, Pix, established in 1938, has been well-known over the years for its cover girls. By the late ‘60s this iconic Australian magazine had become increasingly daring, with more specific photographs and content. In 1971 Pix merged with People, another weekly magazine first published in the 1950s. In time it had also became famous for its topless photographs and later for full nude shoots of local and international models. The partnership did not last long, and Pix disappeared altogether. The Picture arrived in Australia in 1988, becoming popular for using sexy photographs of ‘Home Girls’ rather than supermodels. Both magazines, published today by ACP, are still going strong.

The early 1960s saw a sudden influx of ‘under the counter’ men’s newspapers with names such as Obscenity, Searchlight, Sexy, and Ribald; the most memorable possibly being the Kings Cross Whisper. Kings Cross Whisper actually began its life as a spoof newspaper marketed on New Year’s Eve 1964. The brainchild of Terry Blake, it contained sensational and satirical articles, personal ads, cartoons and photographs of nude women. Many prominent journalists wrote for it under false names, including Max Cullen, who called himself Marc Thyme. It became so popular it continued selling well until 1977.

The increasing influx of what might now be described as ‘soft porn’ magazines and newspapers during the 1960s eventually led to various amendments of the Obscene and Indecent Publications Act (1901), in 1967. These included the establishment of a State Advisory Committee (to review publications and make recommendations to the government) and the creation of a new category of restricted publications that could be sold in shops but out of view to the public. All of which opened the way for more openly erotic magazines to hit the market.

In 1966, Gareth Powell, in association with Jack de Lissa, founded another monthly magazine, Chance. Inspired by Playboy and Penthouse, Chance introduced more beautiful unclad Australian women. It also caused a landmark court case after an issue, arriving from Hong Kong where it was printed, was seized by customs in 1968 on the grounds that it was obscene and had not been reviewed as it was printed overseas. The case was settled in the magazine’s favour. Powell sold Chance in the early 1970s and it eventually disappeared from the market.

Both Australian Playboy and Australian Penthouse appeared on newsagent stands in 1979. Playboy’s first print-run of 300,000 sold out quickly. Similar to the American edition (first published in 1953 by Hugh Hefner), it also featured nudity and sought-after centerfolds, as well as in-depth interviews, full page cartoons, feature articles, reviews and an annual Playmate of the Year. While sales remained stable through the 1980s, by the 1990s they began to fall dramatically, probably due to easier access to other forms of pornography and competition from new magazines. The highest selling copy was an issue in 1995 that featured Danni Minogue. It ceased publication in 2000. Australian Penthouse, based on the original Penthouse (established in 1965 by Bob Guccione), was able to maintain its circulation during the 1990s by being more aggressive, more Australian and more hard-core.

Aside from the obvious ‘girlie’ magazines of the twentieth century, there has always been a strong and consistent following for special interest men’s magazines, particularly those relating to automobiles like Wheels, Street Machine and Unique Cars and more recently, Top Gear. There has also been an increase in interest other areas, including magazines such as Men’s Health.

Ralph was first published in 1997 and was extremely popular for a time, but like many before it (and I assume many more to come) eventually closed. It had been gradually superseded by magazines such as FHM, and the most popular one at the moment, Zoo Weekly. According to Phil Scott, Managing Director of ACP Magazines, in an interview announcing the demise of Ralph in June 2010: “The history of the men’s market is that the No 1 masthead tends to change every 6 or 7 years, dating back to the Playboy and Penthouse era.” None of which, I now add, ever matched the relative prominence of Man during the most part of the twentieth century.

Did you know… The Gentleman’s Magazine, which was published in England in 1731, is considered to be the first modern magazine. Containing essays, stories, political comments and poems, it continued to be published until 1914 when, along with most other magazines, it ceased because of World War I. Its publisher, Edward Cave, is credited with first using the term ‘magazine’ for a publication.

This article is courtesy of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit magazine. A year’s subscription (that’s four issues: spring, summer, autumn and winter) is $48. To subscribe visit

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