NYPL Receives Grant for Amateur Periodical Collection

By Karen Gisonny, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Collection Strategy
December 19, 2013
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

New York Public Library has received a three-year grant from the Aeroflex Foundation and Hippocampus Press to process one of its hidden gems, the General Research Division's Amateur Periodical Collection. The grant will allow this significant collection to be catalogued for the first time, which will provide greater access as well as help identify items for digitization in the future.

The Library's collection contains nearly 3,000 titles, approximately 8,000 items, and spans from 1872 through the Second World War. The earliest group of amateur periodicals was first acquired by the Library in 1906, when Bertram Adler donated about 70 amateur periodicals. In 1914 the library purchased another collection of amateur papers and magazines which contained about 700 titles. Later in 1939-1940, the largest part of the collection came through the gift of Mr. Charles W. Smith. Soon after, the Library mounted an exhibit, "Amateur Periodicals: Selections from the Charles W. Smith and Other Collections" to showcase the expanding collection. At the time, it was likely to have been one of the largest collections of its kind in institutional hands.

The project is designed to increase the visibility of the Library's collection of amateur periodicals and physically stabilize items that were published on very poor paper. A robust description is being created and is accompanied by access points that index the title(s) born by each periodical, the names of all of the editors and publishers, and the place(s) where the periodical was published. Each amateur periodical is being rehoused in a low-acid folder and boxed appropriately. The amateur periodicals are arranged in alphabetical order by title, then the title (if duplicated) are arranged by place, and if necessary, they will be arranged chronologically by date for those popular titles that may have had multiple runs published under a different editor/publisher working in the same city.

Amateur periodicals were created primarily by young writers and hobby printers of all ages. They covered a wide range of interests, hobbies or topics. They were created not for money, but for the pure love of it. Many were literary, including criticism, essays, short stories and poetry, while local and national politics, membership conventions, recipes, advertisements, fashion and letterpress sales information are also represented. Formats varied from small 4 to 8 page pamphlets to little magazines or chapbooks.

Amateur journalism reached its heyday in the late 19th century for several reasons. In 1867, small, inexpensive printing presses were invented and became available by mail order. Since most of these publications were created by the writers themselves operating on these small tabletop printing presses, production inevitably increased. Also around this time, formal membership organizations started cropping up, including the National Amateur Press Association (NAPA) in 1895. The formation of NAPA became important for resource sharing and provided extremely effective distribution networks. Circulation boomed as publications were exchanged and shared among members across the United States. In many ways amateur periodicals are the precursor to today's blogs, zines and citizen journalism. The relationship between new and changing technologies and self publishing has been clear throughout the history of printing.

Amateur journalism captured the imagination of many well known people of the time, from Horatio Alger and Thomas Edison to Charles Scribner and HP Lovecraft. Interestingly, Lovecraft, best known for his science fiction writings, was a prolific contributor to amateur periodicals and published hundreds of non-fiction essays during his lifetime.

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Special thanks to Virginia Bartow and Whitney E. Berman, Special Formats Processing, for their contribution.