'Your readers might have things in attics. Ask your readers: Do you have something sitting around? It might be the next unrecorded paper vital for someone’s research.'
-- Vincent Golden
a rear-view look
His presentation was called
“Chasing the Dumpster: 10 years of hustle.”
That perhaps is what led those attending the New England Newspaper and Press Association 2012 Convention and Trade Show to Vincent Golden’s special luncheon at the McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurant in Boston Saturday, Feb. 11.
During “Chasing the Dumpster,” Golden, curator of newspapers and periodicals at the American Antiquarian Society, shared stories of his time at the society and presented some rare and interesting finds.
“Our mission is to collect anything printed 1876 and earlier. If it was printed, we want it,” Golden said.
The American Antiquarian Society, located in Worcester, Mass., is the nation’s chief repository for American Colonial-era printed sources. The society accepts newspapers, maps, business ledgers, and correspondence.
Golden said the American Antiquarian Society was not just a place to explore history.
“We’re not a mausoleum. We’re a working, living library,” he said.
Each month, Golden pulls between 100 and 300 volumes of newspapers for researchers and visitors.
The founder of the American Antiquarian Society, Isaiah Thomas, was a newspaper publisher during the American Revolution. His newspaper, The Massachusetts Spy, was the voice of the Whig party. It was the Revolution that forced Thomas to smuggle his printing press out of Boston to Worcester in 1775.
“He was a pack rat,” Golden said.
Thomas wanted to save all the printed history of the United States, so in 1812 he established the American Antiquarian Society to house his library of 8,000 volumes.
“When the stuff was still around, he went out and got it. And we’re doing that today,” Golden said.
One of the treasures of the society is Thomas’ original printing press on which he apprenticed. It is one of the few remaining wood presses in the United States.
In 1909, the society decided on the 1876 cutoff date, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence.
The decision was made because “the universe of materials printed starts expanding exponentially after 1876,” Golden said.
Copyright laws that came into effect in the 1870s further cemented the society’s decision, and the wood pulp that became popular in the 1880s for printing “is a collector’s nightmare.”
In his 10 years at the society, Golden has contacted more than 300 newspaper offices in his search for newspapers. He also contacts historical societies and public libraries in his search. He keeps an eye on local auctions and checks eBay regularly.
“Over 85 percent of publishers’ files are gone,” lost to fires, flood, thrown out, or simply misplaced, Golden said.
The Rock Island (Ill.) Argus, founded in 1886, was thrown away. Four thousand issues of a 19th century paper, the Rising Sun (Ind.) Recorder, were burned in 1977.
“Because of this, the panorama of their town has been lost,” Golden said.
Golden has found publishers’ files in maintenance closets, rafters of unheated garages, even once on top of a chicken shed. Another time he rescued a collection by intercepting a truck that was on its way to the Dumpster.
In most cases, the old newspapers are being held in improper storage facilities.
“That’s how I convince them to give them to us,” Golden said.
One trip to St. Louis, Mo., cost Golden $950 in expenses, but he brought back a collection worth more than $100,000.
On another trip, “I put 50 volumes in a Ford Taurus and ruined my suspension bringing (the collection) back,” Golden said.
In the past 10 years, the society has added 287,356 issues to its repository.
The staff at the American Antiquarian Society used to check in everything by hand, but now has a database where everything is catalogued. The database now contains 1.8 million issues, with hundreds of thousands more to input, Golden said.
Golden showed images from some of the collection’s highlights, including:
• The Centralia Sentinel of Egypt, Ill., which Golden acquired in 2003 for its Civil War records.
• Volumes of the Rutland (Vt.) Herald dating from 1794 to 1798.
• The first abolitionist magazine in Chicago, The Liberty Tree. “Someone in a suburb north of Boston had it,” Golden said.
• The Lincoln campaign newspaper, The Rail Splitter, published during the Republican Convention in Chicago in 1860.
• An 1850 issue of the Calathumpian Advocate of Concord, N.H., published by “rabble rousers” during elections who would go to polling places and cause riots.
• A 1799 issue of the Castine (Maine) Journal, which Golden found at a local auction.
• The Horseneck Truth Teller and Gossips Journal, a paper published in secret in New York City and distributed in Greenwich, Conn., whose publisher got arrested for libel.
• Twelve volumes of the Impartial Intelligencer of Greenfield, Mass., ranging from 1792 to 1827.
• An 1817 issue of the “racy” paper the Boston Blade, which exposed the prostitutes of the town and those having affairs. “These are extremely rare but fun reading,” Golden said.
Golden is always finding
new and interesting pieces of history.
Golden showed the room a map with dots of newspapers that were published in individual communities. The more dots he accrues, the more complete a picture historians have of the first full century of the United States, Golden said.
The society is a repository of the newspaper industry, Golden told the 35 people who attended the lunch.
Golden asked editors in the room to help him spread the word about his search.
“Your readers might have things in attics. Ask your readers: Do you have something sitting around? It might be the next unrecorded paper vital for someone’s research,” he said.
The American Antiquarian Society is open to the public and offers tours at 3 p.m. Wednesdays.
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