LONDON — When James Hyman was a scriptwriter at MTV Europe, in the 1990s, before the rise of the internet, there was a practical — as well as compulsive — reason he amassed an enormous collection of magazines. “If you’re interviewing David Bowie, you don’t want to be like, ‘O.K., mate, what’s your favorite color?’,” he said. “You want to go through all the magazines and be able to say, ‘Talk about when you did the Nazi salute at Paddington Station in 1976.’ You want to be like a lawyer when he preps his case.”
Whenever possible, Mr. Hyman tried to keep two copies of each magazine he acquired. One pristine copy was for his nascent magazine collection and another was for general circulation among his colleagues, marked with his name to ensure it found its way back to him. The magazines he used to research features on musicians and bands formed the early core of what became the Hyman Archive, which now contains approximately 160,000 magazines, most of which are not digitally archived or anywhere on the internet.
It was frigid inside the archive during a recent visit — a good 10 degrees colder than the chilly air outside — and the staff were bundled up. Space heaters illuminated a nest that Tory Turk (the creative lead), Alexia Marmara (the editorial lead) and Mr. Hyman had made for themselves amid boxes of donations to the collection. It lines more than 3,000 feet of shelving in a former cannon foundry in the 18th-century Royal Arsenal complex in Woolwich, a suburban neighborhood abutting the Thames in southeast London.
The Hyman Archive was confirmed as the largest collection of magazines in 2012 by Guinness World Records; then, it had just 50,953 magazines, 2,312 of them unique titles. Now, a year and a half after Mr. Hyman was interviewed by BBC Radio 4, donations are pouring in, and amid them Mr. Hyman and his staff have carved out space for an armchair and a snack-laden desk. (The rest of the foundry is a storage facility used mostly by media companies to house their film archives and the obsolete technology with which they were made.)
At a moment when the old titans like Condé Nast and Time Inc. are contracting, shape-shifting and anxiously hashtagging, herein lies a museum of real magazine making, testament to the old glossy solidity. The price of admission, however, is stiff: visitors can do research with a staffer’s aid for 75 pounds per hour (about $100), with negotiable day rates (and a student discount of 20 percent), or gingerly borrow a magazine for three working days for £50.
“I always knew it was a cultural resource and that there was value in it,” Mr. Hyman said of the archive. But having the collection verified by Guinness was about validation, he said, “because then people might take it more seriously than just thinking: ‘Some lunatic’s got a warehouse full of magazines.’”
Ms. Turk has a knack for repackaging Mr. Hyman’s animated monologues into what in the trade are called sound bites. “I maintain that James always had the foresight that this was going to be something else, more than just a sort of collector’s dream,” she said. “The archive is all about preserving and documenting the history of print.”