Seven Years and a Quiet Dirt Road in Exchange for 600 Newspaper Issues

This week we continue our curators’ acquisitions stories with curator of newspapers Vince Golden. His story combines elements of both of the previous posts (I and II), making for quite an interesting turn of events!

There are various phrases in the English language that mean act immediately. Strike while the iron is hot. He who hesitates is lost. We are encouraged to jump at an opportunity. Shakespeare wrote, “Nay, but make haste, the better foot before.” On the other hand, we are told to look before we leap. Slow and steady wins the race. Haste makes waste. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Make haste slowly.”

As curators, one of our main duties is to acquire materials for the collection. Some situations require haste. A new dealer’s catalog arrives and we have to quickly scan it for potential items and get our order in before someone else snaps it up. An auction catalog often has a short deadline from the time it arrives. Someone stops by with an issue in hand wondering if we would be interested.

On the flip-side, patience is a virtue. It may take months or years developing a relationship with collectors before they decide to donate their collections to the American Antiquarian Society. We might have to wait a few months while the board of directors of a historical society debates the pluses and minuses of transferring their newspapers to AAS.

506_0001In 2002, I received a phone call from a gentleman who had several volumes of Greenfield, Mass. newspapers. His father had rescued them decades before when someone was cleaning out a house and left them by the sidewalk to be thrown away. The gentleman wanted to sell the volumes. Over a series of phone calls, I got a better idea of the scope and condition of the collection. They went back to the 1790s and appeared to fill in large gaps in our collection. I thought progress was being made when for some unknown reason communication was cut off. There were no responses to phone calls or letters. I saved my notes and put the incident in the back of my mind.

Seven years later the gentleman called again, this time from a new number and location. He wanted to know if we were still interested in the volumes. Of course we were. What was different now was that he offered to donate them. The following month I was traveling near where he lived, and I offered to drive to his house and pick up the volumes, which he agreed to. When I went, I found myself in western New York on a small two-lane road with no cell phone signal. We met at a crossroad and I followed him back to his house. We ended up on a dirt road driving through trees for over half a mile to a not quite completed log-cabin house. Inside, sitting on a table, were sixteen volumes of old newspapers. We sat down and he told me what happened.

When he first contacted me things were not going that well for him and he was looking to sell the volumes to raise a little cash. The reason he stopped contacting me was he fell ill and was in the hospital for a long time. After recovering from his illness, things improved for him. Once his health and fortune recovered he decided he could afford to donate the newspapers to us.

Detail of bookplate on bound volume of newspapers

Detail of bookplate on the bound volumes of newspapers

So, I finally ended up with the newspapers in the trunk of my car in the middle of nowhere, western New York. When I got back and was able to carefully take a look at the volumes I discovered something special about them. The volumes had bookplates reading “J. Denio’s property, Greenfield, (Mass.).” John Denio was originally a Vermont printer who moved to Greenfield in 1802. At different times he was part owner of the earlier Greenfield Gazette and the Franklin Herald. He also helped establish the later Greenfield Gazette in competition with the Franklin Herald. This was a publisher’s file of his own newspapers. They must have been saved by the family over many years only to be subsequently thrown out and rescued by someone that found them interesting. And after several more years, they finally ended up in our collection. Over 600 issues were added to the collection. The newspapers (all from Greenfield, Mass.) included:

  • Impartial Intelligencer for 1792
  • Greenfield Gazette for 1792-1811
  • The Traveller for 1811
  • Franklin Herald for 1812-1822
  • Franklin Herald, and Public Advertiser for 1822-1823
  • Greenfield Gazette for 1823-1826
  • Greenfield Gazette and Franklin County Advertiser for 1826-1827

Seven years is a long time to wait, but the wait was worth it.

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