Why We Need a Newspaper Hanging from Every Door

Why We Need a Newspaper Hanging from Every Door

[Spooner, Alden] A Tract, on the Importance of Every Family Reading a Weekly Newspaper, and Keeping Regular Files Thereof, which May be Bound Once in Four Years, and Thus Become a Permanent History of the Times.  Brooklyn, N.Y.: Printed at the Office of the Star, for gratuitous distribution, [1820].

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To improve his own newspaper’s flagging circulation, Alden Spooner published a promotional tract trumpeting the value of newspapers for families, for teachers, for keeping young men out of trouble, for promoting the public good, for fending off solitude, for enlivening one’s conversion, for aiding in business decisions, and more. Spooner was admittedly a self-interested party as the editor of the leading Whig weekly newspaper the Long-Island Star (the very paper, by the way, where the boy Walt Whitman would later take one of his earliest jobs as a compositor under Spooner). Spooner’s pamphlet concludes with a wonderful poem arguing against the practice of sharing newspapers.  Of particular interest to those studying book history, though, is a description of the physical logistics of how the family paper was treated:

“In the New-England farm-houses, you will find in almost every house, a file of newspapers handing on a wire hook behind the door. Every paper is carefully saved, not one being used as waste-paper or lost, by lending. While on the hook, they are easily referred to, without taking off. At the close of every year, they are taken from the hook, and placed on some high shelf, until four years papers are thus obtained, when they are firmly bound in a clever well proportioned volume, and become a permanent family book. This binding costs about two dollars, which is only fifty cents a year.  Such a book descends to the children of the family, and is considered as an appendage of the family mansion.  Many are thus amused and edified with a view of ancient times.”

At AAS we are grateful to the generations who took up the call and continued this tradition so that in the present day our current curator of newspapers can make regular pilgrimages with a rented U-Haul picking up these treasured examples of the “History of the Times.”

Adopted by Robert & Lillian Fraker, Savoy Books, Lanesborough, Mass.

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