model train set on track

John Martin’s Book

e*Train Issue: Jun 2019   |   Posted in:

Advertisements from the National Toy Train Library’s Collection

Samples, see full images below

By Lori Nyce, TCA Librarian  Summer 2019

Toy train manufacturers successfully used print advertisements in popular and trade magazines to appeal to both adults and children. While reviewing the numerous advertisements in the National Toy Train Library’s collection, many of the publication titles were familiar to me, with advertisements appearing in magazines like The American BoyBoys’ LifePlaythingsPopular ScienceThe Saturday Evening Post, and St. Nicholas, just to name a few.

But then I came across an interesting December 1919 American Flyer advertisement from a children’s publication that I had not heard of, John Martin’s Book. The illustration and poem highlight some common themes used in toy train advertising. A young boy is portrayed playing with his American Flyer train set underneath a Christmas tree. He is learning how to be a “yardman, dispatcher, and train engineer” with his “real” train just like “the one Daddy takes each morning to office and town” (John Martin’s Book December 1919).

John Martin’s Book, December 1919

While looking for more examples of advertisements from John Martin’s Book, I came across a small collection of full issues of the magazine in the library’s archives. I was able to see the complete December 1919 issue and many more! Just the covers alone are creative, and while browsing through the issues, I could see that this “book in magazine form” was a labor of love, so I wanted to learn more about “John Martin.”

A brief summary of the life of Morgan van Roorbach Shepard, or “John Martin,” can be found online at Paul Elder & Company ( Shepard overcame a difficult childhood and youth, and held various jobs prior to entering into the world of publishing. While living in California, he partnered with Paul Elder, a San Francisco bookseller and publisher. After leaving the partnership, he suffered some hardships before moving to New York and writing under the pen name “John Martin.” The twenty-year run of John Martin’s Book began in 1913, with each issue packed full of illustrations, stories, poetry, puzzles, music, and more from various contributors.

According to a subscription form in the November 1916 issue, the target audience for John Martin’s Book was “children from four to eleven years old,” and a subscription at that time included thirteen “books.” A quote from the subscription form provides an apt description of the appeal of John Martin’s Book, noting that “it is a book with a heart that beats in time and tune with the child’s heart” (John Martin’s Book November 1916).

John Martin’s Book, November 1916

Additional examples of toy train advertisements in John Martin’s Book can be found in the October, November, and December issues of the magazine. I found examples of advertisements for American Flyer, Ives, and Meccano’s construction toys. In an Ives advertisement from October 1918, toy trains are featured along with toy boats, using the common theme of boys learning how to be future engineers or to “man the mighty ships” by playing with Ives toys and boats (John Martin’s Book October 1918).

John Martin’s Book, October 1918

The Meccano advertisement from December 1919 features a wonderful Eiffel tower and emphasizes all the products that boys can build and engineer, such as “bridges, derricks, cranes and trestles, launches, yachts and ocean vessels” (John Martin’s Book December 1919).

John Martin’s Book, December 1919

Besides toy trains, John Martin’s Book includes advertisements for other products or businesses. For example, I found several advertisements for Robert H. Ingersoll’s New York store, in whose window Joshua Lionel Cowen displayed his trains in the early years (see Ron Hollander’s All Aboard! The Story of Joshua Lionel Cowen and His Lionel Train Company, pg. 29). The Ingersoll advertisement from November 1916 is for “glow dial” watches, but notice how the illustration includes a steam locomotive in the upper right-hand corner (John Martin’s Book November 1916).

John Martin’s Book, November 1916

If you would like to see more of John Martin’s Book, but you aren’t able to visit the library, there are some scanned issues on the web, such as Volume 23 (1921) located on Google Books. Or, if you would like to check out some of the wonderful cover art, covers are available to view on There are some very beautiful covers, such as the December 1920 issue. A list of online resources is included below if you would like to read more about Shepard and John Martin’s Book.

John Martin’s Book, December 1920

Online Resources for Further Reading:

Gardner, Martin. 1990. “John Martin’s Book: An Almost Forgotten Children’s Magazine.” Children’s Literature, 18: 145-159. (preview only – requires subscription access)

John Martin’s Book: The Child’s Magazine. 1921. Garden City: N.Y.: John Martin’s House, Inc.

Magazine Art. “John Martin’s Book.” Accessed June 25, 2019.

Mostardi, David. “Morgan Shepard, aka “John Martin.” Paul Elder & Company. Accessed June 25, 2019. 

All images courtesy of the National Toy Train Library, Train Collectors Association.