Since June 1988, when bimonthly Wild West ran a detail from Charles Schreyvogel’s My Bunkie on the front of its first issue, our favorite magazine has covered the Western frontier on its covers and inside, too. What follows is a look at all of our regular issue covers through 25 years (compiled by Senior Editor Martin A. Bartels). Some collectors actually have all 150 covers still attached to the 150 magazines (from the premiere issue to the June 2013 issue) published in Leesburg, Virginia, under the auspices of four different owners—Empire Press, Cowles History Group, Primedia Enthusiast Publications and now World History Group.
In the early years every cover was a detail from a painting, sometimes by artists of the past but more often by live artists. Our second cover (August 1988) stands out because it shows a detail from Preparing for the Sun Dance, by Howard Terpning, one of the most successful Western artists of all time. Terpning’s memorable paintings have appeared often on or inside Wild West, as have the outstanding works of Frank McCarthy (1924–2002), whose Leading the Charge graces the August 1989 issue. During a redesign effort (that didn’t pan out) in April 1995, Wild West strayed from its “cover painting” tradition to show a color photograph of playing cards and poker chips. Collectors take note: For the issue after that (June 1995) we actually distributed two distinct covers in a marketing test; thus readers were greeted with either a Joe Grandee painting of U.S. Borax mules in action or a color photograph of a six-shooter in a case. Not sure which cover sold better, but for August 1995 a painting of Apache scouts and cavalrymen appeared.
Our covers changed (hopefully for the better, you be the judge) when Eric Weider bought Wild West and its sister history publications in 2006. The first Weider Wild West cover (August 2006) features a photograph. One of the most photogenic icons of the Old West, Wild Bill Hickok, appears in fine form above the red-letter cover line DAMNABLE DEADWOOD (our cover story was about the real-life characters portrayed in the high-profanity HBO-TV series Deadwood). The October 2006 silver cover celebrates the 125th anniversary of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In many October covers before and since we have showcased characters from that Tombstone fall drama. And of course our June issue has often featured photos or paintings of George Armstrong Custer, the commander of the 7th Cavalry at the June 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn. Paintings (a detail or the whole work) will still show up now and then on our covers. Just look at the Edgar Paxson painting—yes, showcasing Custer—on the cover of our June 2013 “25 Years” issue. But more often than not we will feature cover photos, colorized or otherwise. Truth be known, covers are mostly designed to attract new readers and impulse buyers at newsstands, but we certainly hope our loyal subscribers (and not just those who collect Western magazines) appreciate the images that have come to the forefront 150 times (eh…make that 151 times) in 25 years. A hardy thanks to all of you from the entire Wild West staff and Eric Weider!
—Gregory Lalire, Wild West editor for 19 of those 25 years
Discussion: Which is your favorite Wild West cover? Do you typically prefer paintings or photographs on the cover? And what would you like to see featured on future covers? Reply in the comments section below.