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!

July 17:Bring your wacky collection to City Reliquary/ Bklyn Historical Society Collector’s Night

Quirky collections on display and in discussion at City Reliquary’s evening of collections, Collectors-Night-2014-300at the Brooklyn Historical Society. I’m not a collector myself, unless you count dust and the bin of nonworking pens on my desk, but I’ll be speaking about scrapbooks as collections. It should be a fun evening. And if you have a collection to share, there may still be time to sign up to present it!

Collectors can sign up for Collectors Night by sending an email to with the following information:
– Brief description of your collection (one or two sentences)
– A few photos (no more than 5)
– The amount of space you require for your display.
The Brooklyn Historical Soc is in Brooklyn Heights at 128 Pierrepont street.