by Gale Sheldon
Banquet Address at the 1999 Convention
How It All Began:
When I was ten years old I published my first paper. I had discovered sports, particularly baseball. Somehow I had decided it would be fun to publish my own newspaper. So I got out some typing paper and proceeded, via the hunt-and-peck method on my folks’ aging Remington typewriter, to produce a single-page, newspaper-looking sheet. No doubt I had been influenced by a Big Little Book, Mickey Mouse Runs His Own Newspaper, which I had gotten in a trade at school. But there was absolutely nothing I could do with a single copy of out-of-date baseball news on a sheet which resembled the sports page of the daily paper. So ended my first publication. Nevertheless the dream lived on.
The Kuna Herald:
One day the following year I was returning from the post office and walked by the grimy window of the building where the weekly newspaper, The Kuna Herald, was published. I could see part of the huge platen press rather dimly through the dirty glass. Excitedly, I hurried home and told my mother what I had seen. That night I asked my parents if I could go inside and get a closer view of the printing. They said I should go in and ask the publisher, Mr. P. J. Gregory, if that would be all right.
On the following Thursday I went inside and asked Mr. Gregory if I could watch him print the paper. He said, “Yes, as long as you don’t touch anything.”
It was a wonderful old office, a bit dusty, with what must have been a huge 14 by 22 platen press chomping away as a page of the paper was being printed. The inside six pages were pre-printed in Salt Lake City and shipped in every week. So Mr. Gregory printed the first and last pages.
One day when I stopped in to see what was going on, the publisher was running out a set of mats from the Linotype and replacing them with a different font for some job work. It was obviously a single magazine machine. His mats were in poor shape, had hairlines in abundance, and generally did not print well. But he used what he had. Once I remember him taking out the chase as he was printing a page of the paper and beating down the slug which worked up, without unlocking the quoins!
And the smell of the job black ink! To me it became the main part of the atmosphere at the Herald shop. My first Kelsey ink was job black and had the same exotic smell. Years later when I returned to printing, I discovered this wonderful ink had been replaced and no black ink has smelled right since.
Delivering Papers and My First Press:
For a while I carried the old Boise Capital News paper in Kuna. Then it was bought by the Idaho Daily Statesman and my brother and I together ran that route, each delivering half of the daily papers. On the basis of our good record, the circulation manager got me a job carrying “complaint” papers in Boise one summer. The next summer my brother and I were both hired as mail room helpers, he for the night shift and I for the day. We ran off daily mailing lists on an old Niles proof press.
Upon reading old copies of Popular Mechanics magazine, I found ads for small printing presses, including the Kelsey. They aimed their ads at the novice as a quick way to become a money-making printer. So in the fall of 1942 I ordered a 3 by 5 Kelsey and enough type, leads, and slugs, and equipment to get started. I also learned a bit about democracy. World War II was on, and the government could not suspend the production of printing equipment because it would restrict our freedom of the press.
The Kelsey Company published a Printer’s Guide which was sent out with each press purchased, and they regularly published a four-page paper titled The Printer’s Helper, with all kinds of hints on how to improve your printing. Along with an issue of this paper in 1947 were notices from two amateur press organizations, the NAPA and AAPA, and I joined both. After a year I dropped the AAPA membership because their papers were mostly mimeographed. Here were just the kinds of people I had been looking for – folks who were actually publishing papers! Within a year I had published a couple of four-page papers on my 3 by 5 Kelsey. The publishing hobby had bit me and there was no cure.
A Many-Faceted Institution:
This evening I want to express my gratitude for this many-sided institution of amateur journalism. Into this microcosm of society, I came with the energy and vigor of youth and discovered one of the rich adventures of my life. Although my amateur activity was non-existent during the years of schooling, starting a family, and building a house, it never occurred to me to drop my membership. I always knew I would be back.
Amateur journalism has brought me new and valued friendships. With great interest and enthusiasm I heeded the call from Glenn Engebretsen in Los Angeles and went to a gathering of amateurs there in March, 1971. Here a whole group of amateurs were opened up to me, and I became good friends with many of them. With interests in common, you have something to be friends about. While sometimes is heard a discouraging word, little actual discouragement seems to result. Once in a while, we have some touchy and contentious individuals, but only rarely does any actual disagreement result in long-standing acrimony.
It is the institution of amateur journalism which has supplied the incentive and framework for producing my own journal, Silver & Gold, with all the adjuncts which an organization of like-minded individuals can provide.
A Place in the Sun:
Frederick Folger Thomas, who insisted in his essay of 1956, “While Still There’s Time,” that he was a “marginal character” in amateur journalism because all he did was publish nearly 500 pages of his journal, Far Afield, in 17 issues. But he did not take part in office-holding, or convention attending, or any of the other tasks required to keep a hobby organization alive and kicking. He was content to let the younger crowd attend to these political and organizational activities. He believed they should not devolve upon the old-timers.
Unlike Fred Thomas, I have taken part in the operation of NAPA West and have always had at least one item in each issue of its journal. NAPA San Diego was reorganized in 1984 following the San Diego convention, and both groups and their journals continue. I have been engaged in the politics of NAPA during the past quarter century. Any member who loves the activity of NAPA and its members must feel a responsibility to do what he can to foster the growth and success of the group. You pay your real dues when you accept a task for the good of the organization.
What Should Amateurs Write About?
The criticism of amateur writing that it should dare to concern itself with any subject matter other than amateur journalism itself is a ridiculous notion that does not belong in our organization. Should it prevail, that would be the death of the hobby itself. And those who write wholly for pleasure, whether or not they are members of an association, should not be ignored or ostracized by the organization. What editor worth his salt would use writing only from a member if he had something better from a non-member?
W. Paul Cook, who published The Ghost, once editorialized that all are amateur papers if they are published without the hope of reward, either in cash or appreciation. The amateur is the only publisher who can be indifferent to readership. He has no customers, no advertisers, no subscribers. Except for his contributors, he has no one to please but himself. The degree to which his publication can bring him satisfaction, the degree to which it may appeal to the readers to whomehe would cater, will vary with the material he is able to round up and its merit as writing.
For fortunate persons with the facility, application, or promise, and with something to say, it is writing that offers the highest aims and the most significant of all the opportunities of amateur journalism. It is not the chit-chat, reports, minutes-keeping, or special pleading for or against issues, causes, or movements. I refer to verse, short fiction, criticism, essays, in those unfenced fields, the humanities: in short, to Amateur Letters.
This is the most exacting of all these diversions. It is mental work – the hardest kind of labor. It requires observation, sensitivity to impressions, some command of the language, a broad sympathetic outlook, good humor, and calm temper.
“Relatively few members are up to it, but there are a few and they are our ornaments….” So wrote Fred Thompson. They are the most to be admired, the most valuable in giving amateur journalism whatever distinction it can claim. They are the most to be envied. For creative writing that really comes across gives its creator a sustained and exalted excitement not found elsewhere in our varied activities.
The preference for me is the opportunity to dabble in the whole range of activities in publishing a paper. I have succeeded only rarely in some of its facets. Being a part of the whole picture, from the written word to shipping the completed papers to the mailer, this is the aspect of amateur journalism which has always fascinated me.
If we are to survive for long we must be generous to and receive favorably all efforts to produce verse, short fiction, criticism, essays, the humanities: in essence Amateur Letters. It would be unreasonable to expect the average to be a whole lot better than average. The writer of exceptional ability is still the exception. So long as we have ten or a dozen writers of real ability, we have support for our moderate “literary pretensions,” the laureate contests and the rest.
In his celebrated Deathbed Masterpiece, “The Grand Illusion,” Ernest Edkins disavowed a lifetime of work in the field of Amateur Letters which he and Tim Thrift had committed themselves to throughout long amateur careers. In this engaging and provocatively written “about-face” he denied the very things he had been toiling with for a lifetime in the hobby. Fred Thomas attributed this famous flip-flop to a revulsion against the pretentiousness of The Aonian name and the banner which proclaimed: “Devoted to Literature, Criticism and the Preservation of Amateur Letters.”
Fortunately amateur journalism endures with an energy not easily dismissed. With seemingly inexhaustible ability to absorb adverse criticism, it goes on, quite as before. It admires our fine writers, such as Edkins and others, past and present. It has been wise for us to cherish, grandly, its Grand Illusion, if that is what it is. For if we jettison our illusions, then we are indeed shipwrecked.
Set on a Pentium computer using Corel Ventura Publisher. The text face is Tiffany, and the display is Lydian Cursive, TrueType for text and metal type for the cover. This face is Lydian. The text was printed on a LaserJet III, and the cover was handset and printed on a 10×15 C&P by Jake Warner who is also the editor and publisher at the Boxwood, Press, Greenbelt, MD 20770.