July 19

Joell Munsell, printer, of Albany, New York, ‘recorded in his diary on this day in 1828, “For two years I have been taking much pains in collecting a copy of all the different papers published in the Union, and indeed, the world. The number I have procured already amounts to upwards of 400. It is an unprofitable task.”

Munsell, at that point deprecated his newspaper collection, but as he was only twenty years old and had been a printer for only three years, there really had not been much time to accumulate a wide selection of newspapers. Before he was through, however, Munsell had gathered over 10,000 newspapers into one hundred bound volumes. Covering both England and the United States, these newspapers were all either first editions or special historical issues. They were acquired by the New York State Library, although unfortunately many of them were destroyed by fire some years later.

Munsell, the son of a Northfield, Massachusetts wagon builder, first followed his father’s trade, but at seventeen he read an advertisement in a Greenfield, Massachusetts newspaper in which the publisher stated:

“Two boys 14 to 16 years of age, who sustain a good reputation for intelligence and sobriety, are wanted as apprentices. Such one will be received on liberal terms.”

His father took a dim view of his son being bound to a printer. While agreeing with his father that the parental objection was based upon concern for a large family, young Munsell nevertheless left Northfield for the first time, tramped up to Greenfield, and secured the job in the office of the Franklin Post. His decision was to have far-reaching consequences because Munsell became one of the important scholar printers on the American scene during the middle years of the 19th century. Although he had never been in a printing office before, he demonstrated a natural aptitude for the work of the compositor. Just two months after he had started to learn the trade, his fellow employees read about an apprentice in another country office who had set a large amount of type very quickly. They asked young Munsell to try to beat the record. This he did, setting 8,120 ems in a working day, some 600more than the unknown apprentice.

After two years, when his employer sold his newspaper and decided to go to Albany, New York to open a bookshop, Munsell was offered a job there as a clerk. The young man accepted. After a short period, finding the job unsatisfactory, Munsell returned to printing. Within a few months he had established his own newspaper, the Albany Minerva, at the same time beginning the correspondence which enlarged his horizons and resulted in the magnificent collection of newspapers. While his newspaper was successful, Munsell soon discontinued it. It was actually a moonlighting operation, being printed in the publisher’s spare time. For several years he worked in a number of establishments in Albany and in other cities. Finally he purchased the printing office in 1836 which was to become famous as Munsell’s Press, while its proprietor became one of the important printers of his era.

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