Monday, August 7, 2017

Periodicals of the Times

QUESTION: I have some old almanacs dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Can you tell me if these have any value, and if so, where might I sell them?

ANSWER: Unfortunately, just because something is old doesn’t make it valuable. This especially applies to old books and periodicals. Of course, different people have varied reasons for purchasing old periodicals such as these. Before we talk about their possible value, let’s take a look at how this type of printed matter got started.

During the Colonial period of the United States, people got their news from small one-sheet flyers and four-page newspapers. During the 1750s and 1760s, these often appeared only once a week, but as the population grew and towns developed, the daily newspaper came into existence. Printing technology also improved, allowing small publishers to print larger numbers of their papers.  Some of these early almanacs had a political bent. Such was the case for Porcupine’s Political Sensor, a short-lived monthly periodical succeeded by the daily newspaper The Porcupline’s Gazette, both published in Philadelphia by William Cobbett.

The Porcupine’s Gazette ran for 770 issues. Cobbett, the prolific, controversial and often contradictory, and anti-authoritarian writer, wrote under the pen-name of "Peter Porcupine." In 1796, a few years after he arrived in the United States, he began a monthly periodical called the Porcupine’s Political Censor, which he used to poke fun at his political opponents, usually those supporting a pro-French or Jeffersonian- Republican sentiment. Cobbett published his Censor until March 1797, when he replaced it with the Porcupine's Gazette. The first issue appeared on March 4, 1797, the day of John Adams’ inauguration. It had a subscription base of about 1,000 readers, which more than doubled within a few months. By November 1797, Cobbett was printing 3,000 copies a day.

Cobbett used the newspaper to support the Federalist party and to strike out against the French and their American supporters during the period of increased tensions between the United States and France. His contentious articles thrived in the politically charged atmosphere, though Cobbett often found himself on the receiving end of libel suits. He filled his newspaper with articles on national and local politics, foreign policy, news from Europe, and economics. Today, issues of the Gazette provide a rich source of information on daily life in Federal Philadelphia, with each issue containing commercial ads and notices, reports of arrivals in the port of Philadelphia, local prices for goods, advertisements for schools and doctors, and much more.

Another form of printed matter was the almanac. These were smaller in size and usually had a number of pages. They were the first periodicals and usually appeared less frequently, often just once a year. They contained articles of interest to the rural society, including information about the weather and farming techniques, plus some local stories.  A good example of this type of periodical was The Burlington Almanack, published by Isaac Collins.

Collins was a printer, publisher, bookseller and merchant in Colonial New Jersey. He’s most noted for this New Jersey Gazette and New Jersey Almanack, which followed his original one, The Burlington Almanack, a periodical for west-central New Jersey that ran from 1770 to 1777.

He was a firm believer in the freedom of the press and had even refused to reveal his source of a pseudonymous article even though the New Jersey legislative council demanded it.  He stood on his grounds as a faithful guardian of the liberty of the press and would not reveal his source unless the source gave him permission. He wrote many persuasive articles on the principle of freedom of the press

The Port Folio was another political periodical, published by Joseph Dennie,  an American author and journalist who was one of the foremost men of letters of the Federalist Era. He originally wrote for various periodicals in Massachusetts but in 1800 moved to Philadelphia to found the Port Folio, along with Philadelphia bookseller Asbury Dickens. Writing under the pseudonym Oliver Oldschool, Esq., Dennie composed and published in 1803 a scathing attack on Jeffersonian democracy, for which he was brought up on charges of seditious libel.

The last of your periodicals is The American Magazine, first published in the fall of 1757 and only running for 12 issues and a supplement.

While all of these periodicals are historically important, their condition is rather poor. Even more so than with other antiques, the condition of books and other printed matter is very important. Collectors seek out those in the very best condition. But that doesn’t say that no one would be interested in your items. All of them contain a wealth of information about life and culture, as well as the political climate, of the time. Historians and writers working on historical novels and history books would find their contents invaluable.

Selling your periodicals will be challenge, however. It will take a very special person to buy them and finding that person may be difficult.

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