August 14

The Cincinnati Advertiser, in its issue of this date in 1833, carried an announcement concerning the publication of what might well have been the first comic book to be produced in the trans-Allegheny west. The publisher was a Yale man, Nathan Guilford (Class of 18 12), in company with his brother, George. The title of this book was Western Comic Almanac for 1834, and it featured anecdotes about the currently popular comic types, Irishmen and Quakers, illustrated with grotesque woodcuts.

Nathan Guilford was no newcomer to the publishing of almanacs, that staple of the American printing trade since the erection of the first press in the Bay Colony almost two hundred years before. Early in the 19th century the acceptance of the educational almanac was beginning to wear thin, hence the recourse to a more diverting approach. In 1822 Guilford, a lawyer turned bookseller-publisher-printer-typefounder, had written and published The Freeman’s Almanack, which purported to contain “a great variety of useful selections, with the maxims and advice of Solomon Thrifty.”

Under the pseudonym of Thrifty, entrepreneur Guilford earnestly endeavored to spread the word for universal education, a cause for which he was to devote much of his life. In his very first effort as an almanac editor, he wrote in a “Solomon Thrifty says” vein: “The first and most important advice which he can give, is, to send your children to school. He says it is a disgrace to a freeman to let his children grow up without being able to read, write, and transact business. He thinks it a shame for a man to go to the polls, who cannot write his vote.—Education, says he, is the soul of a republic; and every American, who neglects to educate his children, he considers not only a bad father, but a traitor to his country.”

While no doubt honest in his convictions as Solomon Thrifty, Guilford was not exactly selfless in his eagerness to spread the word—by the medium of print. As a book publisher and the silent partner of the first typefoundry to be set up in the west, the Cincinnati Type Foundry, he had much to gain. The printing office of Oliver and William Farnsworth, containing but three hand presses, produced in a six-month period in the late 1820’s, 9,000 spelling books, 7,000 of Murray’s Introduction and English Reader, 6,000 English grammars, 2,000 arithmetics, 1,500 primers and chap books for children, and 60,000 almanacs, “all of which have a ready and rapid sale.”

By the close of 1826, Cincinnati, with a population of sixteen thousand citizens, was served by nine printers, who produced over 200,000 copies of a variety of books, most of which could be called educational. Could it be wondered then, that Solomon Thrifty urged: “If you have no school in your neighborhood, let it be your first care to establish one.—It will be a great blessing to your children, and a lasting benefit to society.”

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