Back to Basics

appy birthday to us! This issue begins the 36th year of Early American Life. As with many milestone occasions, we can’t help but indulge ourselves in a bit of reflection on the past (which is, after all, what we do in every issue).Photo by Winfield Ross

Our first issue, January-February 1970, looked a bit different from the current one. Although it had color on the cover, the inside was only black and white. Produced by the Early American Society, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, Jim Betts edited it and invited its 8,000 readers to join in “defeating the forces of the Mediterranean movement; waterfall headboards; camel saddles; pegboard; chrome dinettes; pole lamps; carports and many other threats to the Early American devotee.” Gentle reader, I report the battle is not yet won.

I also report an inordinate use of the color orange in the first issue’s ads.

While we may not want to return to all of the colorways of 1970, who can help but be nostalgic for our first issue’s canning article? I don’t ever remember packing up tomatoes while dressed in a little short-sleeved dress and spike heels, but even in black and white, I can almost taste the summer’s harvest. Okay, so maybe I’m also more than a little nostalgic for that tiny waist from 1970!

Our execution of the magazine may have changed, but our mission has altered little. We still bring you the best examples of historical accuracy in preservation, restoration, and reproduction put together by professional curators in museums as well as interpretations by individuals in their own homes for today’s living. We include house plans, projects, and tips about where to go and what to see—all as promised in our first issue.

We still beg the question of “What is Early American?” asked in 1970. Betts felt that pre-1700 was just too limiting—even I confess a weakness for Chippendale—and too much lenience on the other end of the timeline can only lead to dangerous experiments with shag carpeting. We must retreat with honor to Betts’s words in issue one: “Let’s just say that we use the term ‘Early American’ because it is used by the majority of people to mean style of furnishing that is traditional, comfortable, warm and secure.” That seems a noble pursuit to keep us busy for the next 35 years.

We invite you to take a look back with us in our birthday issue. Bouffant hairdo or sideburns are optional.

Tess Rosch


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