Robert Katzman loves the printed word. His Magazine Museum in Skokie, Illinois, a North Chicago suburb, is just one of four back issue magazine stores in the country. It carries more than 100,000 newspapers and magazines dating back to the 1500s. The unique inventory also includes 50,000 posters (many featuring movie stars), and 200 miniature flags. He also proudly displays the books he’s authored at the front counter.
Customers who set foot in the Museum are astounded by all the tightly-packed shelves and wall hangings of memorabilia. Katzman personally walks the aisles and locates what customers request. He’s an independent-minded, thoughtful person, as you’ll discover in the interview below.
Tell us about how you decided to go into the vintage magazine business?
I was interested in history beginning with the death of John F. Kennedy when I was 13. After leaving home at 14, in 1964, I began collecting historic newspapers. Twenty-one years later, I opened my first Magazine Memories in downtown Chicago, but the building burned down seven weeks later. I reopened it in Morton Grove, Illinois five years later.
What is your professional background?
I was self-employed at 13 (try reading one of my books and you’ll quickly get it), and have remained so for 48 years. I have owned various businesses, including bookstores and a deli. I think I have about two years of college, but that meant nothing to me.
Are you a history buff?
Always, even as a child. Ever since I learned how my relatives in the Jewish Pale died, and even before that.
What periods fascinate you?
All of them. I am self-educated and that never ends. As for subjects of interest,
I like military history, architecture, animation, many kinds of music and art.
Have you always been a collector?
How many magazines do you have in stock, and what are some that come to mind?
140,000 periodicals that date back to 1576 (a British newspaper). Also, hundreds of magazines of critical reviews of films, publications on the history of Gay prejudice in publishing, Jewish history, Black history, Native American, Persia, Pre-historic man, etc.
Other examples are:
What is the price range of your magazines?
$5 to $15,000. The one that sells for $15,000 is the first Playboy. I have periodicals from about 20 foreign countries, mostly foreign Playboys, but overwhelmingly, what I sell is printed in the U.S.
Where do you get these magazines from?
There is no “where.” Everywhere. From my infinite buying trips around North America, and some by train through Europe. People call me after someone dies, but I don’t get them from estate sales. When my fellow dealers died, however, I sometimes bought their inventories or whatever I could afford.
If a customer has a special request for a magazine, can you locate it for him?
Very often. I’m the only one who was willing to hunt before the Recession and I still do it.
Describe some of the most whimsical customers who have come into your store to buy?
One woman bought all five of my books which I thought was pretty gutsy.
You are an author. What genres of writing interest you?
I am a non-fiction autobiographical writer. Chicago is often the setting because I live here and always have. But I’ve traveled a lot and write about that, too.
What titles have you authored?
You can log onto the following sites to read my stories, poetry, books and reviews that have appeared:
http://www.DifferentSlants.com (my stories and poetry).
http://www.FightingWordspubco.com (my books and reviews of them). If one clicks on any of the book covers, a review will appear along with my response.
At your store, you also sell miniature flags and posters. Tell us about the uniqueness of these collections, and what the flags and posters sell for?
I am the last place between Wisconsin and Indiana, I believe, to sell flags from all countries, about 200 countries, selling for $5 each, and the handmade wooden bases are $1 each. All my posters are priced at $5 and $10, and some are from various countries in Europe.
What are your goals beyond your business?
My own objective is to escape my Paper Prison, which fascinates the world but just short of enough money, you know? My heart is in my writing, and my dream is to find an agent whose personality meshes with mine, and one who would still see the uniqueness of marketing an unclassifiable coot like me as a storyteller/poet.
I also want to publish the rest of my completed books, making 10 in all. I want to manufacture T-shirts with quotes from the books. I want to make YouTube videos where I read short poems while looking directly at the camera. I want to publish my two children’s books.
I want to time-travel, too, which in all reality is more likely than any of the above happening. But I know that people, middle-aged women in particular, connect in a visceral way with what I write about and that there’s a (cleverly hidden) big market for a square peg like me out there–somewhere.
Where is your store located, what is your website address, and how may people contact you?
Robert M. Katzman
The Magazine Museum
4906 Oakton St.
Skokie, IL 60077
My Books Twitter@ChicagoKatzman
Copyright 2012 by Charlotte Digregorio.