Mocked by its own title.

516375_0001One feature that makes working at the American Antiquarian Society a joy is the number of resources available at our fingertips.   Our reading room abounds in reference books and bibliographies. Our stacks are filled with county and local histories, city directories, genealogical publications, and other publications. We have access to numerous online databases. When an unusual imprint or unrecorded publication arrives, we are able to find out some information about the publication, publisher or printer.

Then there are the rare times when we are flummoxed.

At a recent ephemera fair at Boxborough, Massachusetts, a dealer sold us some issues of The Sucker, published in Belleville, St. Clair County, Illinois in 1843.   They are small pieces (7 ½” x 5”), crudely printed. Under the masthead is the cry, “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.” Two of the pieces are complete and have as the editor “Devil & Co.” There is one fragment dated July 29, 1843, that has P.F. Coghlan & W. Orr as editors.   Some of the content is political, poking fun at cand516375_0002idates. There are some pretty good jokes among the issues. For example:

‘My dear,’ said a gentleman to a lady whom he thought to have married, ‘do you wish to make a fool of me.’
‘No,’ replied the lady, ‘Nature has saved me that trouble.’

Spunky. – If a man is rude to a lady in Pittsburg, she smacks his mouth with her hand. If he is civil, she gives the smack with her pouters. Sensible and spirited.

One of the scraps has two crude woodcuts; one of a donkey and the other of a rooster. For some reason, one page is filled with nothing but stock illustrations, as if the editor ran out of things to write and used them to fill up a page (below right).

516375_0003Only one other library—the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois—has any issues of this short-lived oddity.

When it arrived I spent some time researching it. It isn’t listed in any bibliography of Illinois newspapers and periodicals. The title and the editors are not mentioned in the county histories. No mention of the paper could be found in contemporary newspapers by searching the Readex America’s Historical Newspaper database.   Every resource at my fingertips turned up no information on this publication. It is as if the title was mocking me for daring to try and find out who was behind “Devil & Co.”

Gentle readers, do you dare take a crack at this puzzle while the masthead sits there waiting to mock your efforts?

Published by

Vincent Golden

Curator of Newspapers and Periodicals, American Antiquarian Society

3 thoughts on “Mocked by its own title.”

  1. Typographically it is quite sophisticated. The typefaces used are very up-to-date for the time, especially for a publication from the heartland.

  2. “Sucker” was a contemporary slang term for a resident of Illinois. The LoC Chronicling America website turned up lots of references — e.g. a list in the Illinois Free Trader for 9/8/1843 of “Names and Nick Names of States” has, among others, New York as the Empire State, Ohio as Buckeye, Indiana as Hoosiers, and Illinois as Suckers. In the issue for 7/28/1843 an article explains state nicknames, including this: “‘Suckers’ is the designation for the people of Illinois; because, it is said, the Galena miners used to appear in spring about the time the suckers, a large fish of the West, ascended the rivers.”

    Which still doesn’t explain the jokes or the donkey, but I’d guess that either “Sucker” is not a derogatory term OR Illinoisians are anxious to argue that it isn’t.

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