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Classic Covers: Rockwell Kids of the ’40s

Published: March 16, 2012

“Second Thoughts” from August 16, 1947

 “Second Thoughts” August 16, 1947


"Second Thoughts"
August 16, 1947

Norman Rockwell painted many Saturday Evening Post covers featuring kids in everyday situations, beginning in 1916. Still going strong in the 1940s, the artist remained a master at capturing youth.

“Second Thoughts” from August 16, 1947

 “Second Thoughts” from August 16, 1947


"Second Thoughts"
from August 16, 1947

Striving for realism, Rockwell took a long board and stuck it out of a second story window. Then he told son Peter, “I want you to crawl out onto that board and look scared.” Rockwell models became adept at acting a part. Peter was not acting; he was terrified.

“We’re all on diving boards, hundreds of times during our lives,” Steven Spielberg said in a 2010 article in The Oregonian. “Taking the plunge or pulling back from the abyss…is something that we must face. For me, that painting represents every motion picture just before I commit to directing it—just that one moment, before I say, ‘Yes, I’m going to direct that movie.” Hmm, maybe we should all have this one on our walls.


“The Census Taker” from April 27, 1940

The Census Taker from April 27, 1940


"The Census Taker"
from April 27, 1940

In 1790 the U.S. Government decreed that a census be taken every ten years to keep track of the ever-populating land called America. In 1940, this census taker shows up with his big black book to interview an ever-populating housewife. She appears to be much like the old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many children she didn’t know…how to recall all their birth dates. Or perhaps she’s even trying to remember just how many cute little red-haired moppets there are!

“Home From Camp” from August 24, 1940

 “Home From Camp” from August 24, 1940


"Home From Camp"
from August 24, 1940

Just as they do today, droves of youngsters in the 1940s made their way to camps for an outdoor adventure. This particular one came home with everything except the cabin, making it a perfect vehicle for Rockwell’s passion for detail. She seems sad to leave the friends she made and get back to real life, where it remains to be seen if Mom and Dad will go along with the critters she collected.

“Devil May Care” from March 21, 1942

“Devil May Care” from March 21, 1942


"Devil May Care"
from March 21, 1942

Rockwell and his wife were not blessed with girls, so the artist must have located a young lady’s vanity among his neighbors. The background is even pink to emphasize that this is girl territory. Rockwell did have three boys, however, and this was one of them. If young Tommy Rockwell did have a sister, no doubt the little scamp would be having a ball sneaking a peek at her diary for the juicy stuff.


“Cover Girl” from March 1, 1941

“Cover Girl” from March 1, 1941


"Cover Girl"
from March 1, 1941

People often call after finding old issues of the Post, thinking they’ve uncovered a gold mine. They often forget that for many decades, it was printed by the millions, and then the would-be nouveau riche take our advice and troll the Internet for sites that sell vintage magazines. They are disappointed to find an issue they thought was old (1940s, for example) may go anywhere from $4.95 to $25.00. On occasion, up to $75.00. With the exception of this issue.

Sure it has an adorable Rockwell cover, but that isn’t why this is the most sought-after issue of the Post. If you can find it, be prepared to pay over $1,000 because of its rarity. And the rarity is because of the groundbreaking Jack Alexander story, “Alcoholics Anonymous.” AA had been showing striking success in the past six years (since its founding in 1935) in achieving sobriety for the “medically helpless.” Thousands of reprints were requested and the article was key to spreading the idea that alcoholism is a disease rather than a character flaw. (Read more about the “Alcoholics Anonymous” article here.)

Groundbreaking story and issue rarity aside, back to our man Rockwell with his Saturday Evening Post cover-within-a-Post-cover. Leave it to Norman to show how yellow socks and scuffed oxfords contrast with perfect make-up and a sophisticated chapeau.

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  • Bob McGowan

    I can relate to ‘Second Thoughts’. It would give me a lot more than that. The boy IS terrified–no question about it.

    ‘The Census Taker’ is priceless! I’ve always loved this cover. Although there is no “shoe” house here, and she’s NOT an old woman, I must say she really looks like she doesn’t know what to do—in more ways than one. Oh dear me.

    ‘Home from Camp’ makes me think that today her hands would be ocupied with some “app” on some 5-G “phone” or iPad. Oh sorry! Those devices are so 30 seconds ago now, right?!

    “Cover Girl” is one of Rockwell’s most clever covers. I never knew about the A.A. feature that makes it so expensive. Wow!