A Long and Winding Road

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Pj.cr

An extraordinary survival.


By Bruce McKinney

An almost two hundred year old bound volume of Poughkeepsie newspapers that once was the property of the local Adriance Library, then owned for decades by a Poughkeepsie person, was sold at auction in Hyde Park, New York in January, purchased by an eBay reseller, posted on eBay and purchased by me shortly thereafter for $640. I live in San Francisco. It was a wonderful acquisition.

Paraclete Potter, the Poughkeepsie printer [1784-1858], lived most of his life in Dutchess County before heading west to Wisconsin in the late 1830s. In his years in Poughkeepsie he was the publisher of the Poughkeepsie Journal, a newspaper that continues today as a daily. Beginning in 1802 he was associated with the Journal and a few years later became its publisher. He lost control of the paper three decades later and shortly after moved west. During his years as publisher, the Journal was a weekly. Issues from this period occasionally come up for sale. Bound volumes are uncommon. So it was, with great interest that I ran across an 1810 bound volume of the Journal on eBay. A week later, with the clock expiring, I made the winning bid.

From experience, I know such volumes are difficult to come by but show up occasionally because they are almost never thrown away. They look irreplaceable although no one is quite sure who wants them. They simply look too important to throw out. That's a very good thing. Finding them when they come up though is a combination of art and luck but mostly luck.

History is transmitted from generation to generation between the covers of books but most accounts tend to minimize the seaminess of everyday life in the 19th century. It isn't that life was so bad, only that by ignoring reality, it's next to impossible to understand life in that period. Human beings are imperfect and life the continuing act of improving. Idealizing the past is a terrible mistake although it continues to be far more popular than looking back objectively. To better understand the past I buy runs of newspapers and read them the way another person might read War and Peace. I also know that someday every issue of every newspaper is going to be fully searchable on line. At that time the importance of interpreting history will begin to fade, to be replaced by our growing ability to see for ourselves first hand what life was like. We'll find out that much of what we have read in books isn't true.

A few years ago I ran across a twenty year run of the Poughkeepsie Telegraph from its first issue in 1822 to the end of 1842. It also came up at auction near Poughkeepsie. The auctioneers had an online site and online bidding but almost no visibility. I offered to cover their lots in AE's upcoming auction search. They declined and I bought the lot for $50. The shipping was more than $100.