Scientific American & The Columbian Exposition… A novice’s discovery…

March 3, 2022 by · 2 Comments 

As a new staff member and a novice to the hobby, until I started looking closely at an 1893 volume of the Scientific American Supplement, I had no idea that the Chicago World’s Fair was also called The World’s Columbian Exposition in honor of the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ voyage.  I did some digging and found that it ran from May 1st through October 30th, which made the June 3, 1893 issue even more promising in terms of content.  The publication does not disappoint.

The front page displays The Exhibit of Windmills & The Palace of Agriculture in grand imagery. Page 3 has: “Notes from the World’s Columbian Exposition” detailing each building and display followed by intricate pen and ink illustrations of new inventions from engines and locomotives to potato planters.

How fitting for an expo honoring the man who jumpstarted America to also honor those who continued to move her along.

Newspaper Curiosities in 1867 from the Harper’s New Monthly Magazine…

February 28, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

In a strange twist within this unique collecting niche, I came across a nine-page essay within the Harper’s Monthly of September 1867.  Imagine my interest in uncovering the following opening:

The history of newspapers has been frequently, but perhaps never yet fully, written.  However, that may be, the history of the press of this country is very far from being complete.  Many important facts are wrapped in obscurity, requiring incredible industry to bring them to light; and he would be a benefactor to literature who should reveal them in naked simplicity.

The author (whose name I cannot discern recorded within the volume) begins with the first press, “established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, eighteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims, where it was operated for forty years without a rival in America.”  He goes on to say that 1644 marked the appointment of “censors of the press”, and that Boston saw its first press thirty years later, and that the Boston News-Letter reported the news from Europe — thirteen months after the fact.  There are many interesting details quoted concerning the earliest days of colonization, followed by the appearance of the New England Courant, the American Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Gazette, the Boston Evening Post and the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, all of which preceded the dailies begun with the Pennsylvania Packet in 1794.

One appealing aspect of this article, beyond the timeline which includes excerpts from most of the earliest papers, is the outside perspective.  The writer acknowledges that all we can know is limited to the information reported, subject to a selection process influenced by the motivation/perspective/experience of the editor.  Thus it has always been, and likely will always be.

The more things change… Vaccinations and the immoral influences on children…

February 15, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Currently, the whole world over is speaking of virus and antibodies, of carriers and immunization. Outbreaks are mapped in news blurbs, along with identified hot spots and constant status reports on flattening the curve.  Comparisons are made to the “Spanish Flu”, but an article in a September, 1808 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine led me to comparisons with smallpox instead.  More specifically, they led me to the smallpox outbreak that eventually brought Edward Jenner into focus — he of the cowpox vaccination fame (or, infamy, as critics would have it).

The mannerly Gentleman’s employs an ambitious article heading as it delves into the fray: “Practice of Vaccination Dispassionately Discussed.”  As the Reverend Cotton Mather discovered in 1721, there is much passion involved in the subject.  He, who pleaded for the adoption of the African method of inoculation to save the afflicted residents of Boston, was the object of threats and the target of a bombing.  The periodical contributor, pen named “Cosmopolitan,” attempts a scholarly address of the merits just twelve years after Edward Jenner formalized the medical application of a controlled injection of the cowpox virus in order to immunize a human body against smallpox, which was disfiguring and killing people by the thousands.

After Mr. Cosmopolitan completes his summary of the beneficial relationship between the vaccine and the decreased virus contraction rate, he promises the editor, Mr. Urban, that as the science may not be completely convincing to all, he is prepared to offer testimonials in the next issue.

I was able to locate the fulfillment of that pledge in the October issue.

The facts which were there mentioned, must of themselves be nearly sufficient to convince an unprejudiced observer of the efficacy of the Vaccine preservative.  It now remains to take an impartial review of the remaining part of the evidence on this interesting topick, which may be gathered from the experience of eminent individuals and from the avowed opinion of public bodies.

These are the same methods employed today about the still-controversial procedure of immunization — presentation of scientific data, followed by explanation of that data from medical professionals, and the promotion or recommendation of the practice by public officials.  For the Coronavirus of today, the vaccine has not even been developed, and the debate is already heated.

PS This issue also has an article regarding juveniles obtaining access to “age-inappropriate literature” through libraries. Two current topics which reach back to the early 1800’s: “The more things change…”.

Scientific American & the Harlem River… 1890…

February 11, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Growing up less than 50 miles from NYC, it was a regular occurrence for “us kids” to reach as far forward in the car as we could to be the first of the family to pass the paint mark on the Lincoln Tunnel walls delineating the New York/New Jersey boundary.  Along with the iconic skyline and the Statue of Liberty, tunnels and bridges defined the vista of any excursion to Manhattan.

Today’s jaunt into the Scientific American reminded me of those childhood outings and had me scouring old maps to discern the changes wrought in the waterway systems for the development of metropolitan New York.  This publication, filled with inventions and botanical discoveries, also chronicles the many arenas of civil engineering foresight and ingenuity.  Those examples of “aging infrastructure” so hotly debated in the political arena of today, were the marvels of yesterday.  Without computer models, before construction vehicles, absent the communication methods of today, great changes were made to the natural landscape in order to accommodate the iconic center of commerce.

An article in the March 22, 1890, Supplement to Scientific American describes “The Harlem River Improvement and Ship Canal” — a project that lasted thirteen years and cost over $200,000.  Many political, geological, and legal difficulties are described, along with evaluation of decisions made, as well as alternate proposed solutions.  The detail is fascinating, even to someone who has no understanding of the impact rivers and railroads have on commerce and industry.  In fact, it never occurred to me that rivers are moved, straightened or even deepened in order to make them more useful.  And I wonder what today’s civil engineers think of the building strictures from over one hundred years ago.

The laws of May 20, 1879, provides that all bridges hereafter to be constructed over this channel shall be at right angles to its courses, and that the bridges at the draws shall not be less than 24 feet above high water of spring tide, and that no tunnel shall be constructed under it which will not permit the excavation of a 20-foot channel.


The Village Voice, U2, Hitler – The sky is falling!

December 10, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

Many children of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s grew up with the threat of nuclear war hanging over their heads. From “Dr. Strangelove” to “The Day After” – the annual death-march of dystopian movies capsulized the vague dread that everything could end at any moment; or worse still, that the end could begin at any moment — with all of the indeterminate, lingering fallout and devastation. Discussions took place about whether it would be better to live close to a big city that was bound to be a target and promised immediate annihilation, or further out where radiation sickness might destroy. It was a gruesome topic made more appalling by resigned acceptance.

The pop culture of that era seemed to feed one of two perspectives:  distraction or depth. Such publications as The Village Voice articulated both positions. The May 24, 1983 review of U2’s album “Peace with Honor”, contains an editorial observation that has very little to do with the music.

“Though I was born one week after the atomic bomb was dropped on people, I have always expected to live out my appointed days.  But recently it’s been evident that large numbers of teenagers, adolescents, even children now fully expect that their appointments will be cancelled by person or persons unknown, so a vast, anti-militarist ground swell isn’t much of a surprise.”

Note: To add to the uneasiness of the era, a few pages earlier The Voice included an article highlighting the life of Adolf Hitler.

Whether or not you agree with the distinct bias of The Voice, it certainly holds an important value as being an accurate representation of the angst of the generation — and it did so for a few generations.

Louisa May Alcott – a sad, but poetic death…

November 22, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

Today I found a gem as I was sorting through some volumes from the late 19th century.  While this one might not have broad appeal, it was the highlight of my archive adventures.  Within The Woman’s Journal dated March 10, 1888  is following editorial note by Lucy Stone:

To the editors of the WOMAN’s JOURNAL the death of Miss Alcott comes with a sense of personal bereavement.  From the beginning she was a steadfast friend of the suffrage cause.  She was always ready to serve it.  Her cordial endorsement of it in many letters sent to be read at suffrage conventions, her repeated reaffirmation of her increasing conviction of the need of woman suffrage has been again and again like a tower of strength, or like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.  Millions of people on both sides of the ocean, whose lives her pen has enriched and made better, will hear with pain and sorrow of her untimely death.

From her home state newspaper, to which she was a regular subscriber, the details of her life and sudden departure from it are particularly poignant: “It is difficult, within the limits of an obituary notice, to do justice to a genius so rare and a character so lovely,”  writes one contributor.  However, the anecdotes and details that fill the paper  attempt to do just that as they chronicle her life, her career, and the many efforts to enrich the lives of those around her.  The author of Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins and so many other popular titles, became sick while visiting her father, Amos Bronson Alcott — the Transcendentalist teacher, writer, woman’s suffrage advocate and philosopher.  To him, while a mere breath removed from her last, Louisa wrote,  “Surely dear father some good angel or elf dropped a talisman in your cradle that gave you force to walk thro life in quiet sunshine while others groped in the dark…”.

Sadly, it was on the morning of his funeral that she passed away.  Following the obituary for her father, the three-column tribute to the beloved author begins with a statement that is heart wrenching in its simplicity.

“Louisa May Alcott is no more.”

The Rare & Early Newspapers website’s “search” capabilities…

August 30, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

I memorized the U.S. Presidents in chronological order, based on a theory that we learn new things by attaching them to things we already know.  For example, if Abraham Lincoln is the 16th, then hanging James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson on either side of him creates a bigger building block to which attach Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore at the earlier side, and Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes on the later side. In this way, the framework of established knowledge allows further acquisition.

The Rare & Early Newspapers website encourages that way of learning.  When you search a topic, name, or general time period, all the results appear arranged by the date they were listed for sale, with the most recent listing at the top.  However, by changing “Sort:” from “Date of Addition” to “Issue Date,” a timeline appears that can be further modified by selecting “Newest First” or “Oldest First,” although it defaults to the most recent date at the top, which I find the most helpful order.

This tool is beneficial for a few consumer-based reasons, but my purpose is usually education.  Collectors know way more about their area of focus than I do, but I can learn quickly from the website listings.  For example, “Bonnie & Clyde” are familiar names, but a scroll down through the search reveals listings and images of headlines — the earliest dated May 20, 1933.

The listing reads as follows:  “‘Two Girls Help Men rob Minnesota Bank; Town Raked by Machine-Gun Shots in Escape:  Two young women and two men bearing sub-machine guns robbed a bank of $2,500 today…scattering shots down the main street as they fled… with much more detail. This robbery was reportedly committed by the infamous Bonnie & Clyde, (see Wikipedia) which if true would be the earliest report of their robberies we have found in a newspaper. But another source doubts it was committed by this infamous duo but by the Strain Gang instead, although even this site (see Wikipedia) raises the question: ‘…did the Strain gang take the fall for a Barrow gang job?’ Two sources with different opinions.”

And the newest listing, an August 22, 1938, issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune, says, “First report coverage on the capture of the last of the Bonnie & Clyde gang, Floyd Hamilton.”

That is one small aspect of this feature; I will be sure to fill you in with new ones as I find them. Oh, and I’ve already found the “Advanced Search” feature!

Daniel Webster – “Defender of the Constitution”…

August 27, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

Daniel Webster, “Defender of the Constitution,” needs no introduction to the collectors of Rare & Early Newspapers.  A search of his name on the Rare & Early Newspapers website brings up over 25 active listings (select “view details” to see the Webster content), including an illustration of his residence, the text of his, Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseparable! speech, and the black-bordered notice of his death.

Among these, however, there is no mention of the six page biography contained in the August 1867 Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.  Prompted by the publication of The Private Correspondence of Daniel Webster, this unsigned submission reflects on the character of the great man.  Of greatest impact to me is the refrain that Webster was the same refined, organized, gentleman in private as he was in public.  And, it seems it was his self-proclaimed standard.  “So rigidly had he adhered to the rule he frequently avowed in his lifetime–never to write anything which he would not be willing to see in print the next morning — that scarcely was there a letter which even delicacy could withhold from the public eye.”

I was fortunate to read this account firsthand, to fill in many details in this larger-than-life figure of American history.  His impact covered three presidencies, and his correspondence –saturated with wisdom and reason– was prolific.  That said, I feel compelled to share a larger than usual portion from the actual text.

No view of this man is at all complete unless regard be had to his love of the grand and beautiful in nature…It has been said: “his face warmed to a fine tree as to the face of a friend.”  The most noticeable feature, it may be, of the Correspondence is the general silence that pervades it concerning the author’s own efforts.  While all other tongues are sounding of his exploits, his is still. Or if he breaks the silence, he does so with such moderation and modesty that refinement even could not torture the allusion into a ray of vanity.

Note: Many of his speeches were printed within contemporary newspapers and are often available upon request.

The Women’s Tribune & Sojourner Truth… Still learning…

August 9, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

In The Women’s Tribune I have seen many important names listed within news columns, announcements, tributes and quotes.  Susan B. Anthony, Louisa May Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe are mentioned as the companions they were to the community persisting in the struggle for equality.  This week I came across an announcement concerning Clara Barton and a memorial to Sojourner Truth.  And, as I have helped serve at a soup kitchen named in her honor, it was that latter name that held my attention.

The runaway slave that fought for freedom and credited her new name to “God speakin'” to her, passionately preached on behalf of equality for all.  Unlike Frederick Douglass, she did not think that suffrage for women should be a separate issue from suffrage for black men, that distinctions were not legitimate, but contrived from societal norms.  Her most famous words challenged those mannerly excuses.

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm. I have plowed, I have planted, and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?”

In her 110 years of life, she challenged inequality, clothed refugees, addressed conventions of ministers, spoke with a president, and always urged others to examine their lives, to see the magnitude of opportunity contained in the privilege of life.  Sojourner Truth attended many rallies and conventions, and her wise words were marveled at, noted and recorded.  To the women’s movement she was an encouragement and inspiration.

Now here, now there, this wonderful woman was to be found doing good, giving her unfortunate people help.  Strengthening the courage of her white sisters, aiding them in so many ways that it brings back to us her words, “I’m a watchin’, I’m sittin’ among you to watch; and every once and awhile I will come out and tell you what time of the night it is.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine & Bankruptcy…

May 8, 2021 by · Leave a Comment 

Under the illustration of St. John’s Gate that introduces each issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine, is the month and year, followed by the table of contents (each issue via the link will show an image of this – typically the last image posted).  For the first time, I noticed the calligraphy that follows “CONTAINING” and precedes the article headings and their corresponding page numbers.  “More in Quantity and greater Variety than any Book of the Kind and Price.”  While I have nothing to compare it to, I can attest that of the thirty-seven distinct articles listed for March of 1782, the subject matter ranges from Parliamentary debates to a Swiss underground road, and includes bull-baiting and the wool trade along the way.  The regular coverage of weather, news from around the world, births and marriages and deaths, trials, and literary reviews is fit in around the special bits.

In particular, my interest was caught by “Usual Causes of Bankruptcy, Caution against — ” and turned to page 138 to read.

In all ages there have been men, who, by sudden losses, by entering into indiscreet obligations, by improvident conduct, or through fraudulent designs, have become, or pretended to become, incompetent to the discharges of their just debts; but the number of bankrupts which now appear in every Gazette is a subject of serious and alarming consideration.

Along with the obvious financial harm that can be caused by frivolous living and participation in gambling, the author addresses the lack of care and foresight that must be viewed as the social responsibility of every gentleman, in order to enable him to properly discharge his debts and contribute to the public funds by means of taxes.  He recommends annual reflection for the purpose of seeing areas of weakness in funding, and to not allow debts to unknowingly pile up beyond the ability to repay.  Then, he maintains, steps toward frugality can be made in enough time to avert distress.  Finally, he offers as example the late Sir Stephen Theodore Janssen who he terms a “virtuous citizen.”  He records the words of Sir Stephen, addressed to the Livery, as he deems them of value to the general population.  The speech concludes in this way:

I do further declare that it is my determined resolution to continue living in the same frugal manner, till the last shilling is discharged; and in case any turn of fortune should happen to me, my whole just debts shall be discharged so much the sooner, as I am determined to persevere in preserving the character of an honest man.

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