Friday, July 31, 2009

Extra! Extra!

Let me first apologize as so often before because of the poor quality of the photos below. I'm left with the ancient Sony digital camera that records on 3 1/2" floppy discs. Enough said. But I figure they must still be worth at least 750 words.

I live in Hunterdon County in central New Jersey and while today there is only one local newspaper, the Hunterdon County Democrat, at one time there were a dozen or more papers published in many of the little towns that make up this area. The largest town in the county was and still is Flemington, today about a 45 minute drive north from Trenton.

Peter Haward was a teenage immigrant, later one of Flemington's leading citizens. In his diary for October 11, 1802 he recorded: "In Trenton I got the Newspapers at the Printing office, & left at sun-rise, rode to New Market & left a package at Benj. Johnson's, then at Price's tavern, arrived at Flemington at 11 o'clock, delivered packages there, had dinner, then to Pittstown, left papers there, then to Mr. Exton's, left one paper, then to John Maxwell's in Bethlehem [Pennsylvania], arriving about sun-set, left two packages of papers there, returned to Mr. Exton's, having ridden 48 miles."

The first local paper was the Hunterdon Gazette, originally The Hunterdon Gazette and Farmers' Advertiser. The first number was published on March 24, 1825. It was a one-sheet, four-page paper with four columns to the page. By the 1880's there were numerous competitors, many openly aligned politically as was common in the 19th century; some independent; some of a religious character; and even some amateur efforts like The Amateur Sun and others published by boys of the Jersey Blue Amateur Editors' Association. Another was The Jerseyman published by H.E. Deats who described his paper as "an Amateur Journal devoted to airing the pet opinions of the Editor and others."

One of the regular local papers was started in 1880, The Milford Leader. Living in Milford, NJ as I do, this paper has a special interest for me. The "Leader" was an independent paper meaning it was not aligned with a political party or local interest group, at least not in an overtly partisan nature. Most independents strove to give balanced coverage even as they maintained a character of their own given to them by their editors. The proprietor of the "Leader" in 1890 was George B. Corson and the editor Samuel H. Bast.

The Hunterdon Democrat, today the Hunterdon County Democrat, had its roots in the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency. The Gazette was a Whiggish paper and most of New Jersey had gone with the democrats in the election of Jackson. So the county officeholders were determined to have a paper that would "hew to the official line". Over the course of the next 100 years many of the small local papers failed and the Democrat bought out the others. In 1949 they purchased the Frenchtown Star and the Milford Leader, merging them into the Delaware Valley News. The Democrat ceased publication of the News two years ago and is now the sole surviving local newspaper.

The photos below show the original press used to print the Milford Leader; a "turtle" used for transferring chases from stone to press; and the last issue of the Leader from 1949. Some other misc. bits and pieces of the printing trade are also present. All are on display in the foyer of the Democrat's office in Flemington.


Gamewell Press said...

I'm really enjoying these mini-history lessons you've been giving lately, Rich, and I don't think I've ever seen a hand press like that before.
Of course, I've really only seen Colombians and reproduction wooden ones.
It's great that they've held onto the press through all these years and buy-outs.
I'm also kind of amazed that your floppy disk-taking camera still works!

Rich Polinski said...

Yes, the Sony is a dinosaur, but keeps on giving.

I've always loved history and the way I've always approached any craft I've ever done whether woodworking, blacksmithing, printing, etc. has been affected. I've always found I get a better understanding of the craft and enjoy it more as a result. It gives you a better "feel" if you know what I mean.

My dream is to have an iron hand press. Oh, yeah.

Gamewell Press said...

As a former rare book librarian, I know EXACTLY what you mean (former because while the materials kick ass, the other aspects leave something to be desired).

Hey, have you ever looked into Rare Book School at the University of Virginia? Kind of pricey, but they do give scholarships, and it's seriously the most fun ever for a printing history dork. I've been once and am going back as soon as I get the money saved.