Back Number Budd talk Feb. 18, 1 pm, Astoria, Queens – note corrected time

Back Number Budd

Back Number Budd

If you didn’t have a scrapbook and didn’t have room for piles of newspapers in your house, how else could you find old news items in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? You could visit a form of offsite storage, flourishing first in a basement in midtown Manhattan, and then in an old horsecar barn in Astoria, Queens.

In the 1870s, an African American man known as Back Number Budd began sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to researchers, lawyers, and browsers. In a time before library newspaper collections or indexes, his business allowed his clients to find long lost information. Especially because he was black, buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for his work of sorting and saving old newspapers elsewhere considered trash. The story of his work offers a view into forgotten moments in African

Astoria Map

1891 Astoria Map

American history.

Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, but competition from the New York Public Library, which started saving more newspapers, and clipping services, which came into use in the 1890s, also displaced it.

I’m excited to be speaking about Back Number Budd on Feb. 18, 1 pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, not far from where Budd had has warehouse, in Ravenswood, Astoria, Long Island City.

I already had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some of his descendents in Massachusetts, and hope that someone in Astoria will have a lead on a photo of his business – or have other stories to share.

Thanks to the Public Scholars in the Humanities, Humanities New York, for sponsoring this!


Speaking at Harvard April 11 on Writing with Scissors

Boston! Writing with Scissors talk this Thursday April 11 at Harvard’s Mahindra Center for the Humanities at the History of the Book Seminar that Leah Price and Ann Blair run. Bob Gross responds. So exciting to be in such illustrious company! Looking forward to seeing you there!.

Cchicago inter ocean sunday oct 13 1895lick here for more information from Harvard’s Mahindra Center for the Humanities.

Treasures at the University of Washington

I had the treat of speaking to the Book Arts Guild in Seattle Nov. 1. What fun to connect the scandal of reality TV star Lauren Conrad turning book spines into box decorations with the reuses 19th century scrapbook compilers made of books!

Sandra Kroupa with scrapbooks

Early 20c scrapbook made up of hacked up early printed books and bits of medieval manuscripts. Don’t do this!

Book Arts and Rare Book Curator Sandra Kroupa laid out an array of the University of Washington’s scrapbook treasures. They included the truly horrifying work of a man who had hacked up early printed books and medieval music manuscripts to save the choice bits in his scrapbooks. He probably thought he was engaged in scholarship or some form of preservation — saving the best of these books. It reminded me of the collection of snipped off decorative letters from medieval manuscripts that another collector donated to the Marmottan Museum in Paris. Far more troubling than Lauren Conrad fiddling with Lemony Snicket.

On Kindle

Writing with Scissors is now available for Kindle. It seems odd for a book that’s much concerned with physicality — with the ways scrapbook makers cut and pasted using their literal scissors, not those little icons at the top of your screen. The scrapbook pages speak through their tactility — some are dense and heavy with pasted clippings; some are generous with white space. But of course these cutters and pasters were converting their stacks of newspapers into portable reading devices. So reading about them on Kindle, Nook, and the like is a reasonable development.

Luce clipping bureau 1960sI loved learning and writing about some of the steps and developments between scrapbooks and digitization: Newspaper storage businesses, and clipping services. Here’s a picture of the Luce Clipping Bureau in the 1960s.