AJ History

First 100 Years


The first volume of The National Amateur

Excerpts from accounts 1879 convention

In 1891 at Philadelphia

NAPA's first permanent constitution

Pillow fight

Almost fatal doldrums

1926 marked the semi-centennial

Little remembered giant

The Torpedo

The Mailing Bureau

Library of Amateur Journalism

Ralph Babcock

Presidents' Field

Tryout Smith

Thrift & Edkins


Amateur Press Clubs

Philadelphia Connections

National Amateur Press Association
The First 100 Years: Flashbacks...

Conventioneers this year will not be visiting the Franklin Institute to see the most famous of all a.j. libraries as they did during our diamond jubilee. In lieu of such a pilgrimage, here is an up-dated history.

David W. Jagger, editor of the Collector and the Index, wanted to sell his 2000 amateur paper collection for the price of indexing. Edwin Hadley Smith paid the required $10 in 1897. These papers were enough to spark Smith's collecting instinct. When he moved from Salt Lake City to New York in 1899, he had already acquired 7000 papers. During the next three years he added 13,000 more. He tried to catalog his journals during his spare time, but decided it would be better to resign his position and work full time on the collection. He had saved some money but the estimated six months stretched to a year and a half. He exhausted his funds, went into debt, was arrears in his rent, but doggedly continued, existing on one meal a day, sleeping on a packing crate in an unfurnished room-often working 18 hours a day, completing the task in the summer of 1904.

After having the collection bound (there were now 25,700 papers), he began to search for a place where the collection could be placed in order to make it available to other interested amateur journalists. His altruism was rewarded. On November 5, 1908, the Smith Collection was opened to the public at the Pratt Institute Public Library in Brooklyn. Five years later the collection was moved to the Pulitzer School of Journalism, Columbia University, at the request of the director, Dr. Talcott Williams. Charles C. Heuman, an ex-president of the Fossils, purchased the collection from Mr. Smith in March 1916. It then became known as the Fossil Library.

Two years previous to the purchase by Heuman, Smith had published his notice of retirement from amateur journalism. His "retirement" apparently was prompted by the failure of the Fossils to raise funds to give the collection a permanent home. Later sufficient monies were raised by voluntary means. The formal opening of the Fossil Library took place on October 10, 1916, in the New York Sun Building. Joseph Dana Miller was named librarian.

Smith remained inactive for fifteen years. The library suffered a similar fate. It was practically complete to 1915 and contained 29,500 papers, 750 books, 1800 clippings, 2200 photos, 4500 printed relics (ephemeral and 14,000 catalog cards. A new era began when Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the publisher of the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal and other magazines, lent his weight to the suggestion of Leonard Tilden that the Fossil Library be housed in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A letter dated June 16, 193 1, to Heuman formally accepted the collection and stated that: "We shall house it permanently in the new Benjamin Franklin Memorial; it will be kept intact and will be in its own separate alcove in the library of the Franklin Institute....

Shortly before this event, Smith had once again become active. At the NAPA convention in 1933, he was elected an executive judge, but resigned when the president of the association, Harold Segal, asked that he take the position of librarian.

The Franklin Institute actually accepted the collection on April 6, 1934, through its librarian, Alfred Rigling. The collection then consisted of both the Fossil Library (items to 1915) and the National Amateur Press Association Library (items from 1931). These two were combined to form the Library of Amateur Journalism. The years 1916-1930 were not represented in either collection, so Smith set out to fill in the missing journals for those neglected years.

Attendees at the 60th convention in Oakland, California, learned that the NAPA Library contained 2200 papers, 100 books and additional printed clips and relics. Only six issues of the National Amateur were needed to complete the 1878-1935 file of the official organ. A year later Smith was able to report that the collection was complete.

At the 1940 convention, in grateful appreciation for his cooperation, Rigling was named an honorary member of the NAPA. His successor, Walter Pertuch, was later similarly honored.

When Edwin Hadley Smith died, March 3,1944, the NAPA librarianship passed to his wife, Nita Gerner Smith (daughter of one of the 1876 founders). In 1955 Bernice Spink took over from ailing Mrs. Smith. Seven years later, her husband, Helm, was appointed assistant librarian.

In April 1964, thirty years after the Franklin Institute accepted the Library of Amateur Journalism and had promised to "house it permanently," Mrs. Spink received a letter requesting removal of the library. At the convention in Des Moines the same year, "Edwin Harler, Harold Segal and the librarian were appointed to meet with the institute." Due to Spink's ill health, he and Mrs. Spink resigned their duties and Stan Oliner, a professional librarian, took over the duties.

The Franklin Institute gave those involved ample time to decide upon a recipient. Oliner thought that everything should be sorted and re-catalogued before being sent to a new home.

Because it bad so often been referred to as the Fossil Library, and historic information in The Fossil led them so to believe, the NAPA felt that the Fossils should make the decision on the library's disposal. The Fossils permitted Oliner to do as he requested. To pay the trucking charges to Oliner at Grand Junction, Colorado, the NAPA donated $ 100 and the Fossils $7.

On September 30, 1967, the Library of Amateur Journalism was formally transferred to the New York University Library, Special Collections division, in New York City. The papers were signed by delegates of the Fossils, NAPA and the American Amateur Press Association, whose journals have been added to the total. However, lack of funds have hampered sorting, indexing and filing.

    Last updated: 01/16/2000