Pretty in brown

Baltimore Glimpses

July 23, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

BALTIMOREANS of a certain age sometimes refer with affection to "the brown section." They are talking about the Sunday Sun rotogravure (or "roto") that from 1917 to 1960 (with a few years off during World War II) was printed -- every word, every picture -- in brown.

Promotional ads appearing in the paper the first week of January, 1946, announced there would be a new "rotogravure" section. The earlier section had been printed in broad sheet like the rest of the paper. It was mostly photos -- always a bathing beauty, Navy fliers, the Prince of Wales falling off a horse -- with cutlines. But wartime shortages, of both ink and newsprint, had caused the roto to be suspended.

The new magazine most Baltimoreans are familiar with (the first issue was Jan. 6, 1946) was a tabloid and was edited for most of its life by Harold A. Williams. Its editorial thrust was (and continues to be) local. The cover of the first issue featured the city's relentless pursuer of numbers writers, Lt. (later Capt.) Alexander Emerson. There were pictures, too, of Baltimore's high-society dance, the Bachelor's Cotillon.

Over the years the brown section became a Baltimore institution. Every Sunday Baltimoreans looked to it for the striking full-page photographs of A. Aubrey Bodine ("Pratt Street Dock," "Maple Sugaring, Garrett County") and portraits of prominent Baltimoreans like H.L. Mencken, Hopkins Professor William F. Albright and Marie Bauernschmidt. Later on: "I Remember," the humor of Ralph Reppert (illustrated by cartoonist John Stees) and "Curious Camera," man-on-the-street interviews.

Reppert's style was to tell what everyday life was like with his wife, Harriet: "So she hid the chocolate Easter bunny behind the radiator. In the morning it looked like an old fielder's glove lying there. But that's just the way Harriet does things."

Sometime in the 1950s, as printing capability advanced, the magazine began to include full-color ads. But the magazine was still referred to as "the brown section" -- at least by old-timers. As color became more popular with readers and more in demand by advertisers, it was only a question of time before the magazine cover would come out in full color. Brown had been the dessert of Baltimoreans for most of the century. Now it was color.

From Sept. 18, 1960, the magazine moved rapidly from fully brown to black ink with full-color photos and ads.

Understandably, Baltimoreans remember the people, places and events until 1960 in one color -- sepia.

On July 9, Other Voices misidentified the purchaser of Trenton Democratic Club at auction in 1985. He was James Crockett. We regret the error.


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