Before magazine designers and editors could use lots of photos to enliven their pages, they needed other methods. In the late 19th Century, Good Housekeeping used decorative initials at the start of each article. Unlike typical initials, these weren’t simply larger or more ornate, but were creative depictions of letters that related to the magazine’s themes, like a wisp of steam above a cup of tea that looks like a W, or a table that looks like a T.
I first ran across these while searching Google Books for drink recipes that use burdock and dandelion, and was reminded more recently when looking for vintage kale salad recipes (I found one in the July 24, 1886 issue of Good Housekeeping).
The gallery above has a few of the more creative initials that I found in the May 15, 1886 issue, as well as the W that I found earlier in an 1889 issue.
As printing technology changed and design decisions evolved, the thematic letters turned plain: 1903 issue has plain initials, but then in a 1909 issue they are mostly decorative (e.g., an I with botanical flourishes around it). The next issue I could find was 1922, which had plain initials.
All letters except the W above the cup of tea are from Good Housekeeping, May 15, 1886. The W above the cup of tea is from Good Housekeeping, August 17, 1889. (via Google Books)