I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Seven…

August 23, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Vacation is a good thing – as is coming back after a small change of scenery. I was up in Maine on a pond that is larger than any lake in my home state. And, while there, I was introduced to some important, prestigious folks who are third generation cabin (“camp” in the local vernacular) owners . We met at a covered dish supper out on one of the islands, bringing our contributions of bread and pie by way of a handmade wooden boat with a small outboard motor. And the inevitable question, “what do you do?” gave me a temporary fascinating status within the small group that included a renowned city planning consultant, a state representative, a former missionary to one of the Pacific islands and a couple of people who loosely classify themselves as “working in finance”.   And, once again, I can reflect on the wealth that comes to anyone with access to information and knowledge.
Last week I had intended to tell about The National Tribune – a paper packed full of everyday life. My bit of time away in a very small town where people still own the original house that their great grandfather built, or moved, or rebuilt after fire swept through that portion of the town, made me even more eager to share it.
We have here, in the annex, the years of 1885 through 1887. Within these weekly offerings is that strange blend of folksy and elite – the movers and shakers of a national capital as they move around town and shop and advertise and gossip and greet. Unlike that other Washington title The National Intelligencer, the first of the eight pages contains very little news, while the third page is devoted to veteran accounts of the American Civil War, with columns headed by campaign and battle names. Sandwiched between the words of the wife of the Speaker of the House concerning her eight children and the scientific reporting on the application of incandescent mantles to carriage lights are details of Senate hearings and policy matters that still impact us today.
If you have the opportunity, consider purchasing a random date from this collection. It’s less than two movie tickets and popcorn, and will likely enrich your life as much as it entertains. The newsy, small town tone reminds me of my recent time in New England, with the strange familiarity induced by elements we all have in common, whatever our circumstances or position.
Anyway, I plan to wander the New England titles from the 1800’s in my next bit of adventuring time. Life, as described by a community newspaper, is filled with unexpected moments of beauty, kindness and every day heroism.

Note: If you would like to purchase an issue of this title from the 1800’s, feel free to do so at: National Tribune, 1885-1887

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Five…

August 9, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

I began this post with a completely different musing on the world of collecting.  However, one hundred and twenty words into it I received a query concerning the content of an issue posted on one of the web market places.  After my research concluded, I cleared my page to begin again.

We had a 1927 New York Times listed for sale, and the request was to verify whether or not a name was mentioned within the feature story.  And so, for the first time ever, I read about the USS S-4, a submarine that was rammed by a Coast Guard ship off of Massachusetts on December 17th.  Of the forty on board, six crew members survived long enough to signal their location.  For three days the divers heard sounds of life; then the tapping ceased.  One of the rescue team almost lost his life attempting to attach an air hose to the cavity in which the small group had huddled.  His buddy eventually received a medal for saving him.

It is horrible to follow the words of hope and heroic blow-by-blow efforts as diver after diver took a dangerous shift in the turbulence, spurred by the Morse signals from the submarine, “Is there any hope?”  Finally, reluctantly, the tragic designation was issued, “lost with all hands.”

If I read the historical bits correctly, it took three months to raise the sub, which (“who” to all those in the habit of employing the feminine pronoun for a ship) was utilized for another five years following the disaster.  My contact today was looking for the name of his grandfather among the divers who battled weather and odds in the hours following the crash.  And he is there.  The name I was commissioned to seek is nestled within the sentence, “First diver to the scene was ______________”  For a full column the radioed conversations from command to scene are reported word-by-word.  These were clearly the exchanges of men determined to save their fellow men, at great cost and against reasonable hope.  And my imagination had me within that family, hearing bits and pieces of this epic event through the years.  Perhaps he never talked about it at all.  Either way, the very words spoken as one diver worked through the obstacles are here on the pages within an issue that we will carefully package and ship out to his grandson.

For me, this personal narrative embedded within a national tragedy eclipsed every other treasure found in a week packed with collectors seeking titles spanning from Virginia Gazettes to Village Voices.

I just had to share.

I’m New Here: Week Twenty-Four…

August 2, 2019 by · 2 Comments 

Today someone asked me to choose the nicer of two issues.  Each had the same date, the same title, the same price, and so a collector (who was in that particular instance selecting a gift) wanted to know which I thought best.
As many of my interactions are, this was a phone conversation. I offered to send photographs, but he said, “You told me my previous selection was beautiful, so I trust you.”
While that is a very nice compliment to give to “the new girl”, to be quite frank it worried me. Guy’s philosophy, when it comes to describing the condition of an item, is to set expectations low, and let the collector be pleasantly surprised. And it makes sense. He makes sense. We are shipping things hundreds of years old to folks hundreds of miles away. How can we possibly use common evaluations to describe Rare and Early items?
See, the truth is that I am a bit entranced by these old papers. I’m learning to see the browning, the foxing, and even the tears in very peripheral ways. Instead, every part of the oldest papers feels stately and significant.  The decorative mastheads are fancy, but the straightforward block type conveys dependability and balance; loveliness can be displayed in a broad range of styles.

This young upstart country has packed a lot of history into two hundred and forty-three years, and these pages tell of the innovation and the expansion.  They report virtues and crimes.

It’s a little magical to me to stand and contemplate  volumes stuffed with the details that brought us to where we are today.  For better, as they say, or worse.

An expert knows the wear and tear that decreases value, and our catalog prices often reflect that aspect.  So, I’m not really the one to ask when you want to ascertain condition.  If the words of the stories are there, I will probably tell you something hyperbolic like, “It’s stunning.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m transfixed.

I’m New Here: Weeks Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three…

July 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Time seems to be advancing at an ever-increasing pace.  Each day is crammed with more tasks than can possibly be accomplished; I think this means I am beginning to get the hang of things.  But Monday brought me up short a bit as I searched titles tracing a particular story which initially diverted to the Freedom Ride.  As intriguing as the tone in those accumulating reports of bus rides through the South was, the heading on a neighboring column wrested my eyes and my thoughts.  I had to know the reason that divorcees (such a fancy and outmoded term) spent a night in jail.  At least that’s what I believed at the time.  However, since it has been four days since I read the report and I am still ready to sound forth at a moment’s reflection, it might have been better if I stuck to the familiar angst over bus seats allocated by color of skin.

In case accompanying photographs do not tell enough story, women went to jail because deadbeat dads (such a crass and modern term) did not pay court-ordered child support.  Just that.  The year was 1963, and I suppose I am not meant to expect much else from the era — particularly that the freedom to assemble could possibly, legally, be constrained to a total of four persons.

Because, that was the crux of the charges — the reason for the headline:  Night in Jail Makes Divorcees Contrite.  “They promised that if they ever picket the County Building again to protest lagging support payments they will keep within the legal limit of four.”  Fifty-six years ago a woman who was not receiving justice promised by the legal system had to promise to forego rights granted in 1791 by the First Amendment, even as she attempted to bring pressure to bear on the powers that be.  Of course, I’m not foolish enough to think that this tiny fragment that sparks my ire is as important than any of the other Civil Rights /liberties that seem to have too limited of a citizenry to whom they are applied.  And I am fiercely glad that the group of four swelled to an angry mob of twelve, bringing so much havoc upon the town that these single mothers had to be jailed in order to preserve the peace.  Perhaps they were granddaughters of those who marched for Suffrage .  It may be that they were inspired by other heroes that brought about change. Because things are not the same today. Here it helps me to take in the 1963 newspaper as a whole, reading again of the laws that were eventually impacted by two different groups.  In 2019, wearied with seemingly insurmountable conflict, offense, discrimination and outright hatred, the neighboring headline, “11 Riders Quietly Leave for Mississippi Test Run” provides some perspective.  Multiple barriers to equality remain, but many have been knocked down.  Many barriers have been knocked down, but perhaps some have been worn away through the centuries by those whose stories are woven through old newspaper pages, those who find their own, quiet, persistent way to push back.

I’m New Here: Weeks Twenty & Twenty-One…

July 4, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s hard to put into words all I learned last week, other than conclude (again) I work in an amazing place. Distinct events blurred together as we completed the regular tasks of a pre-catalog release week, simultaneous with the receipt of eleven pallets of a new title.
As I know the least, I am the least helpful in this bulk intake process. Everyone else has done it before – making space where none seems apparent. So I stayed out of the way, fielding phone, email and web orders to the best of my ability.
This week, however, marks the Fourth of the July, and I took the opportunity to look at some surrounding details of 1776 through the real time lens of reported news.

The Sons of Liberty met under the Liberty Tree. It’s not an American fable; I read the notice calling for attendance and providing an alternate location in case of overflowing turnout. People staked fortune and life to sign the Declaration of Independence, and Philadelphia papers published their names alongside that document. Paul Revere was a working man who bought advertisements in The Massachusetts Centinel to draw more customers into his silver shop. Somehow, the risk of this bid for colonial freedom becomes more meaningful as I consider the sacrificial participation required from everyday people who had plenty to occupy them in their own private lives. Regular folks became significant because they stepped up when there was every reason to keep their heads down.
Today I am thinking about the farmers and shopkeepers, the printers and the writers who looked beyond immediate concerns to take a stand for the implications on centuries to come. Surely these are some for whom the words resounded, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary…”  I won’t pontificate aloud, but there are so many contrasts to the perspective I readily adopt within my plush and easy American life.

Fresh perspective on the human story feeds the impulse: the more I find out, the more I want to know.  But the disconcerting truth is that the more I search, the more versions I find.  The best course of action just might be to head back into the annals and read it for myself…

 

I’m New Here: Week Nineteen…

June 21, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

What do Lizzie Borden and the Galveston Flood (Great Storm, Galveston Hurricane, and any other alternate title) have in common? Of all the things I could focus on this week, those are the two that stuck in my mind, and it wasn’t because of personal fascination. Collectors frequently look for things not readily available, and they request to be put on a “want” list. Sometimes we are waiting for a specific title and we contact them when one is in our possession. Other times they are looking for material related to a certain topic, which takes much more time. Ms. S will always buy things concerning South Carolina, and Mr. G is following threads of a story that spans our nation’s history. So, in every spare moment this week my desk was piled with huge volumes of pulpish papers from the year 1900. I was looking for the details as the story unfolded, and I read each in sequence in close to the way a contemporary of that disaster might have. I didn’t know much, and neither did the newspaper subscribers of the time. They, too, were scouring pages for updates, and recoiling in disgust at some of the pictures and descriptions. I read at least five portions aloud to anyone who would listen, because it seemed such a thing should not be kept to one’s self.
I’m not going to describe the bodies piled, and martial law decreed and then finally lifted. I loved reading the notices for benefits that went on for at least a full month in cities as far away as New York. There was also the funniest story about a pair of children under the age of ten who developed a racket going around posing as bedraggled twin refugees from the city of Galveston. It seems many a kindhearted housewife bathed and fed them before realizing herself to be the victim of a scam.
And Lizzie Borden’s story is not much like the Alfred Hitchcock Presents version I was introduced to in midnight reruns during a childhood sleepover. Most people believed her innocent, according to news reports. The earliest police statements were adamant that there could not have been only one killer at work. There was also a credible confession of guilt by a male neighbor who turned himself in.

Often it is this way; complex pictures emerge as I pull reports to fill requests.
This week I learned to follow the sequence, uncovering a fuller story with each new dateline.  There’s a moral in this aspect of things, if I can only pause long enough to ponder it…

I’m New Here: Week Eighteen…

June 14, 2019 by · 2 Comments 

This week I learned to back up my data files with more diligence. I also learned that I shouldn’t boast of finishing a task early, as I am liable to then fall far behind (particularly if I don’t save my work).
Most importantly, I learned that we don’t know what we don’t know, and we can’t learn it until we know something.
As I was immersed in the newspaper coverage of significant dates in American History, I found that my vague idea of the Civil War as being somewhere around 1862 kept me from understanding the significance of Lincoln’s assassination within the timetable of the war of brother-against-brother. The great conflict was in the mopping-up stage; Grant had definitively beaten the Confederate troops. And President Abraham Lincoln, the man who took up the burden of holding together the Union, was shot in a theater where he was out for what was termed by one report as “an evening of respite”.  It’s suddenly more tragic, and those long lines formed by a mourning populace seem so reasonable a response by a shocked nation.

Over the weekend, the relative of a Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers employee was touring the facility and paused over text running down the right margin of the cover of a small periodical from the 1920’s. “You know who that is,” she asserted. We didn’t. We thought it was an issue about the game of hockey, positing the question whether it would or would not last in the United States.
It turns out the featured author of the issue was one Rose Wilder Lane, the woman who penned the tales told by her mother of pioneering days in what eventually came to be called The Little House on the Prairie series. An accomplished writer and reporter, many of her short stories were published in Harper’s Bazaar and Saturday Evening Post.  When Rose was in her seventies, she traveled to Vietnam in order to provide a female perspective on the war for the readership of Woman’s Day Magazine. And I learned all of this because someone who knew a bit, put together pieces and asked a question.
Juxtaposed with this whole journey following strands of the known into discovery of the unknown, was an overheard discussion about the lack of liberal arts education received by the up-and-coming generation. In an era of information available by voice command, almost everything that can be known is, theoretically, accessible. But how will any of us know the questions to ask if we don’t have a base of knowledge from which to begin?    A narrow foundation must by its very nature constrict the breadth of potential growth.

Anyway, this is a great place for contemplation of deep things.  And, since I lost my first draft, I have the opportunity to contemplate the same subject for the second time.  🙂

By the way, the Liberty Magazines are nifty compilations somewhat in the vein of the later Reader’s Digest, packed with advertisements and helpful hints right beside news of the day.

I’m New Here: Week Sixteen…

May 31, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Here in “our neck of the woods” Spring frequently brings tornado warnings. Yesterday, radios, smartphones, and computer displays all sounded the alarm. One of the part-time people working on the labels for Catalog 283 asked what I would choose for my last meal before the tornado hit. I parried with “what would you take into your safe space from the annals?” And my contribution, quickly and easily, was “The American Museum” issues — as many as I could grab from the shelf.
I have one collector who looks for these and he contacts me by email with a list of five or six dates. Every time I search, thinking “there is no way we have any from that month.” Each time I locate one or two, and he happily buys them. During that brief interaction studying dates and verifying the appropriate appendices I have come to find this publication ridiculously beautiful. If I were trapped in a tornado shelter, 18th Century American Magazines would suffice for amusement and instruction. In a single issue there are lexicons for four different Native American languages, methods for preparing dye, a treatise on the Biblical perspective of capital punishment, and political news from around the world. Stock prices are listed alongside poetry. In fact, the complete title enthralls me: “The American Museum: or Repository of Ancient and Modern Fugitive Pieces, &c. Prose and Poetical”.
Subscriber names, by state, are listed alphabetically over the first ten pages. The issue I randomly pulled has a touching inscription: “Henry Wayman Woods presented by his dear mother August 6, 1832. Wisdom is the principle thing, Henry.” The content feature is Lexington and Concord, but buried within one of the random sections is an article about the first reported African-American doctor and details of the “Virginia Calculator”, a slave from New Orleans who was described as a savant by Dr. Benjamin Rush (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence).
There is so much to learn, packed within these octavo-sized (8” x 5”) papers.  Knowledge was culled from every imaginable subject, in order to educate and enlighten.  A well-informed public, it seems, was deemed critical for the development of the young country.  In my opinion, that’s a lofty goal that would translate well to any civilization at any point in history.

Wisdom is, quite possibly, the principle thing.

I’m New Here: Week Thirteen…

May 10, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

All of my grandparents immigrated to the United States as young adults, and three of them came through Ellis Island. My maternal grandmother spoke six languages since she was from a portion of Europe that had a high degree of ethnic overlap. However, she never taught anything but English to her seven children because my grandfather was adamant that he, his wife, and all their offspring would read and write English fluently and speak it without a trace of an accent. He didn’t count the heavy Jersey City vowels they acquired along the way.

As proud as they were to be Americans, the history of these states was far less important than the political and economic makeup of the land of opportunity.
This week I encountered four different collectors who are tracing their ancestry via newspapers. And, through their eyes, I see different aspects to catastrophes like the Dust Bowl and the Johnstown Flood — the human stories. Each American tale is so varied, so unique, so distinct within the melting pot of  “huddled masses yearning to be free” welcomed by the Statue of Liberty.
Whether family was part of the westward expansion, established in the old blood of Philadelphia, divided along the Mason Dixon Line, or descendant from early coastal fisherman that braved mortality rates to literally eke out a living – pieces of the stories are buried within these old newspapers. One fellow found a pot from the Tennessee foundry in which his great-great-grandfather worked, and then he managed to track down a paper with an article on the workmen facing a strike. “There were only twelve employees,” he told me. “So one of those mentioned was my ancestor.”
I’m a wee bit envious of those of you who can find your folks through the New York Tribune or the New Orleans Picayune, or even D.C’s National Intelligencer .  Still, the next best thing might be pulling a title that contributes a piece to someone else’s puzzle. Thank you for enlisting our help; please keep the requests coming.

And, in honor of “Jack”, Faustina, Stephen and Charlotte, I am including in this post a photograph from an issue of Scientific American. If there is only one piece of American history in your lineage, I think Ellis Island is a pretty hefty one.
Cheers!

Post Script:  The number of staff here is too limited to do more research than pulling titles and dates that have been requested by collectors.  There are many great databases for searching content.  Once you know the paper you are looking for, we are happy to see if we have it!

I’m New Here, Week Twelve…

May 3, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

This week I learned a bit more about major stories that were not covered by news outlets, as well as events and people for whom fame was achieved through failure.

Lindbergh’s flight and the details of his life were a big deal in the world of newspapers. Like Amelia Earhart, many chronicles exist of the events leading up to and including his famous flight path. And those are very popular issues with experienced and novice collectors alike. I enjoy the perspective through the eyes of the reporters of the time – and all of the details on which they chose to focus.

Interestingly, Lindbergh’s renowned success was rivaled by the widely reported failure of Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan, who flew to Ireland instead of the return trip to California he had logged in his flight plan. Further research suggests that Corrigan had been denied permission for that “accidental flight” multiple times. My personal opinion is heavily influenced by the photographs I could find which certainly seem to portray the grin of a fellow intent on breaking at least a few rules.

Papers that cover the Chicago Fire of 1871 describe the destruction, the casualties, and even the investigation into Mrs. O’Leary, whose cow is the stuff of campfire songs. The latter made me laugh, as I have always assumed it to be a fictitious rhyme. However, it becomes oddly real when a full column asserts Mr. O’Leary’s adamant claim that the cow was not his, but his wife’s, and he was sleeping at the time of the fire.

Strangely, there is little popular knowledge of fire that burned Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and much of the surrounding area on the same day. It far surpassed the damage to Chicago and is potentially the “deadliest fire in American history”. Two papers, “Peshtigo Times” and the “Green Bay Advocate” appear to have covered it, but the 1500-2500 deaths so far eclipse the three hundred or so that perished in Chicago I am perplexed by the scant notice.

What makes a story newsworthy? In this day of the “24-hour news cycle”, I relish this week’s pause to consider that “truth” has always been in the hands of the publishing houses. Since earliest printings, someone has decided what to tell the general public. The best thing about accessing old newspapers is that each reader can at least verify what was being reported, rather than relying on a current interpretation or paraphrase.
Aldous Huxley said, “Facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored.” But what about the facts that no one knows?

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