The Lure of the Old Amateur Journal
by William H. Groveman, Guest Editor
When I first entered amateur journalism I began to hear of Edwin Hadley Smith and his gigantic collection of amateur journals in the Benjamin Franklin Institute. I was not interested. True, I had saved the few papers that had come to me up to that time, but I paid no attention when the sages in our midst ranted of the campaign of ‘89 or the neat political trick Schermerhorn pulled in 1891. For the life of me I couldn’t see why anyone should care about what went on a half century ago when there was plenty doing now.
Then the awakening came. One day I got hold of one of the old amateur papers for myself. My fate had been decided! From then on I was a blood brother of Edwin Hadley Smith, feeling the same agony as he did when a paper came without a date and the same joy in tracking down an elusive journal of the Halycon Era.
As we know it today amateur journalism came into an organized existence in 1869. There had been papers before then, but they were nothing more than local products of boys and had no connection with any other amateur papers. After the Civil War a cheap press was produced and that started a craze that was to sweep the continent and infect every live American boy for the next ten years.
The first amateur journalistic organization was founded by William L. Terhune and J. Blair Scribner in 1869 and existed with several changes of name until 1872. It died as the National Amateur Press Association.
After a lull of four years it was suggested that as many of the boy printers would be in Philadelphia on July 4, 1876, for the Centennial celebration, it might be well to hold a meeting. The meeting was held with about sixty of the amateur editors present. They probably had no intention of permanent organization and elected officers only to satisfy a boyish whim for power, but the fact remains that the organization they founded that day has continued to exist for 65 years. The National has known periods of ebb and of flow, but today it still demonstrates its recuperative powers to the amateur fraternity and lives on. In it statesmen have tested their powers as boys, friendships have been formed for life, men and women have met and married and had children who had children that were amateur journalists, great writers have improved their literary work until ready to face the world, and hundreds of printers have gone forth to uplift the graphic arts. No wonder it’s called the Grand Old National!
The period that saw the organization of the National was the greatest that amateur journalism has ever known as far as quantity of papers goes. The tide swept on for two years after 1876 and during the administration of “Biffy” Hall over 1800 amateur papers were issued. Then came the blow that almost ruined NAPA. The post-office department took away the privilege of second class rates that had been allowed previously and thereafter every amateur paper that was mailed had to carry a one cent stamp. This action was too much for many of the young editors and every day saw the failure of a score of papers, but finally, in the way it always has done, the National arose phoenixlike from the ruins and found itself better than it had been, for the really well printed journal had not passed on.
And thru the years we see the same thing happening over and over again. For a time the National appears almost dead, suddenly a live wire member enters the rank, an official displays amazing activity, a local club may be formed, and things are humming again.
After near-death in 1878 the National went thru a tumultuous convention in 1879 to the brilliant years of Frank Newton Reeve and Finlay Arnon Grant. It faced a split with the literary element in the middle Eighties, but the prodigals returned eventually to work for the welfare of the mother association. In 1891 the only actual split in its history occurred, but thru the perseverance of Truman J. Spencer the association was united again within two years.
In 1896 its first strong rival was formed, the same year that an attempt was made to issue the National Amateur as a semi-professional journal. Then decadence set in until in the administration of John T. Nixon, things again began to pick up. The “young blood” movement of Warren J. Brodie and the arguments with the United kept interest alive until the era of the Master Printer arrived with Cole, Brodie, Thrift, Lind, Loveman, Zeigler and others giving us the most brilliantly done journals we have yet had in any great number.
The National elected its first woman president in 1909, the same year that the tide began to flow downward that continued for twenty-four years. The Old Guard was passing, and those that came on were not of the same timber. The papers of Edward H. Cole were the only ones that could compare with those of the previous decade.
Dead rot really set in during the Twenties and the organization was practically transformed from one of editors to one of writers. The buck was passed from year to year and finally Vincent B. Haggerty saw that something had to be done. He did it.
1930 saw the beginnings of the Boy Printer movement and after a few years in which the fledgelings tested their wings the new element took over and carried on quite well for five years. In 1939 the National almost went on the rocks again, but the return to activity of Edward H. Cole and the renewed enthusiasm of others towards the end of President Jorgensen’s administration pulled the association back and went on to help President Telschow to the greatest administration in over thirty years. At Cleveland George W. Trainer was elected President, but what the future historian will have to say of his administration depends on what is done to help him by the amateur journalists of today.
Editors: Willametta Turnepseed, Springfield, O.; Burton Jay Smith, Wyandotte, Michigan…