In 2012, Guinness World Records officially recognized the Hyman Archive as the world’s largest collection of magazines. Back then it contained 50,953 magazines. Now it contains more than 120,000 individual issues, and continues to grow at around 30 percent per year.
More than 30 years ago, James Hyman started collecting magazines, pamphlets, newsletters, brochures, and other printed materials. At the time, he was working as a scriptwriter for MTV Europe, in constant need of fast facts to feed to the TV presenters. This was before the internet, so scouring through magazines was just about the best way to read up on all the latest pop culture happenings.
At first, the collection spanned a single shelf. But it grew and grew and grew, until it eventually attracted the attention of Guinness. According to the world’s most famous record keepers, it took James and his helpers 128 days to count the magazines, stored in 450 crates.
The archive is primarily focused on popular culture, but includes a wide array of topics, from film and TV to music, music video, art, fashion, interior design, technology, sports, photography, comics, and more. The archive’s oldest treasures date back to 1850, and more than half of the magazines are not found in the British Library, which, with more than 150 million items, is the second largest library in the world.
So if you’re looking for a National Geographic from the 1920s, an NME from the ’40s, or a Melody Maker or Playboy from the ’50s, as well as thousands of other publications, the Hyman Archive is the place to go.
And that’s exactly what many researchers do when they’re looking for specific pieces of pop culture history. The Hyman Archive has loaned material to the BBC for various pop culture TV series; has provided material to numerous museums and galleries; has lent pieces to Amazon; and played a key role in providing material to the hugely successful “David Bowie Is” exhibition at London’s famous Victoria and Albert Museum.
The next step is to digitize the archive, turning it into a massive online research library, preserving it for future generations and making it accessible to researchers around the world.