Credit for portions of the following must be given to Clarence Brigham & his work “Journals & Journeymen”, as well as to the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan.
During the nineteenth century, newspaper carriers were often not paid by the publishers of the papers. They typically depended upon donations from patrons at the end of the year. To remind the public that the carriers depended on their donations, newspaper publishers issued poetic broadsides or booklets for New Years Day. These poems often recounted the major news stories of the previous year, but always closed with a plea to pay the carrier.
They were rarely saved since they contained no news reports and as a result are rather rare today. Although many Carriers’ Addresses were contained within the body of the first newspaper issue in the new year, the most sought after are the broadside editions, printed on one side of a sheet of paper typically with ornate lettering, decorative borders, etc. The more decorative the Address the more collectible. The “New York Weekly Museum” address for 1790 had an engraving of a boy delivering a paper at a doorway, one of just a few with such an illustration.
The earliest known examples were done for the “American Weekly Mercury” of Philadelphia in 1720, 1721 and 1723 although none have been found. The earliest located for the American Antiquarian Society is that of January 1, 1735. Benjamin Franklin included them in his “Pennsylvania Gazette” as early as 1739 (see photo).
The amount of the donation expected by the carrier was generally left to the customer. Many of the verses concluded with such a sentiment as “Remember the poor printer’s Devil” or “Be bounteous to the Printer’s boy”. Sometimes the sentiment was more definite, such as “I won’t Refuse a six pence” and “Please keep the cents and–give the silver”.
By the 1870’s the custom began to fall off, likely due to the beginning of more commercial & larger influential newspapers which considered such a custom undignified, also falling away in favor of the distribution of Christmas or New Year’s cards by the end of the 19th century. The latest located for the American Antiquarian Society is dated 1904.
A four page promotional piece announcing the completion of a 30 year project titled: “History and Bibliography of American Newspapers 1690 – 1820”, now commonly referred to simply as “Brigham”, its creator, includes some statistical information which might be of interest.
Brigham notes that from 1690 to 1820, there were 2120 different newspapers published. Of this totals the six New England states had 447; the six middle Atlantic states from New York to Maryland had 1023; the ten Southern states from Virginia to Louisiana had 425; and the seven Western states had 225. The city which from the beginning to 1820 had the most newspaper was New York with 138, followed by Philadelphia with 107, and Boston with 73.
Also, the six largest collections of newspapers before 1820 are:
1)American Antiquarian Society with 1492 titles
2) Library of Congress with 936 titles
3) Harvard with 732 titles
4) New York Historical Society with 634 titles
5) New York Public Library with 480 titles
6) Wisconsin Historical Society with 415 titles
We are often asked about appropriate reference books for rare newspaper collectors, particularly when it comes to relative rarity of newspapers. When one encounters an early title not seen before, how can we judge how rare or common it might be?
Thankfully for all collectors, Clarance Brigham undertook an exhaustive 30 year project to record all know issues of every newspaper title printed in the United States prior to 1821. This effort, published by the American Antiquarian Society (Brigham was directory of the Society) back in 1947, is titled: “History & Bibliography of American Newspapers 1690-1820“, a two volume set with some 1500 pages in total.
This work lists all American newspapers from the noted timespan, by state, then by city, then by title. The true value of this work is the brief historical account of each title with the exact dates of changes of titles & names of publishers, followed by a checklist of all files located. This last piece is what reflect relative rarity. If a title has just one or two holdings in institutions, and only a few issues within these institutions, then it would be consider rare. If a title has 15 institutional holdings noted, and complete or near complete holdings within those institutions, the title might be considered common.
This set has been out of print for many years, including the more recent edition done in 1975, but they occasionally come up on eBay or web-based rare book sites such as abebooks.com. Prices tend to run from $200 to $400 for a set, but a lucky person might find it for much less. I believe we have a set of the 1947 edition priced at $265.
I would encourage any collector of pre-1821 newspapers to think about adding this work to their reference library. It contains a wealth of information and is a resource which I have used regularly for over 30 years.