The Library of Amateur Journalism

Also known as

“The Edwin Hadley Smith Collection”


“The Fossil Collection”


This library owes its existence to the industry, energy and foresight of Edwin Hadley Smith. Mr. Smith gained considerable prominence as an amateur politician, and published various papers, chief of which was the Boys’ Herald, he having secured the original engraved heading used by this famous journal in early days. The collecting and arranging of this library is a splendid example of the enterprise, self-sacrifice, and almost fanatical devotion to a cherished purpose so characteristic of American youth, but exemplified to a superlative degree by Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith first gratified his love of collecting when he was a clerk with the Girard Fire Insurance Company of Philadelphia. He gathered over 400 old insurance policies of such historical interest that the Pennsylvania Historical Society gladly received them for preservation. He left the insurance company in 1892, and removed to Salt Lake City. He had joined the National A. P. A in 1889 and had saved all the papers received in exchange. In 1896 he learned that the old editor of the Index, published in 1873, would turn over his collection of 2,000 amateur papers to any one who would pay the expense he had incurred in cataloging it, namely $10. Though Smith did not have the $10, he wanted the papers, and he obtained an option upon their purchase. Not until a year and a half had elapsed was he able to take up this option and become the possessor of his first amateur journals dated before 1880. The interest aroused in looking over these old papers intensified his desire to add to his store, and he began in 1898 to collect in earnest.

One day he noticed the name of Sterling P. Rounds in the city directory, and remembered he had once read that a boy of that name had published an amateur paper with Tad Lincoln, son of the President. Calling upon Rounds, he found him to be that boy and succeeded in securing from him a copy of the Holiday Budget of 1865, which Rounds found in an old trunk. Smith thus received one of his most valuable items.

In 1899 he removed to New York City, shipping his collection by freight in a packing case. His collection, now containing 7,000 papers, weighed over 300 pounds, the freight charge being $11. For about four years the collection was in storage in Linde’s warehouse on Hudson street. As soon as he was located in New York, Smith carried on his search for old amateur journals. He corresponded with amateur editors all over the country. Charles H. Fowle gave him his collection of 30 years, and several other old-time amateurs followed suit, notably Frank J. Maratin, William F. Babcock, George W. Hancock and Edward A. Oldham, who turned over their entire collections. Charles C. Heuman, Edwin B. Swift, Warren J. Brodie and others sent him bundles of papers, while a number of others offered their collections for sale. These were purchased by Smith, and his accumulation increased rapidly. He bought for $30 a collection of British amateur journals from a London amateur, which added greatly to the extent of his collection. In 1902 it contained over 20,000 papers.

In June, 1902, Smith rented an unfurnished apartment of three rooms on Joralemon street in Brooklyn, and moved his entire collection there. Every evening, far into the night, and on Sundays and holidays, he worked, sorting and arranging his thousands of publications. This task proved so immense that in February, 1903, Smith resigned his clerkship in the statistical branch of the Fidelity and Casualty Insurance Company in order to devote his entire time to sorting and cataloging. He had saved a little money, and he estimated that six months would be sufficient to complete this work, but it actually took a year and a half. His funds became exhausted, he fell into debt, his rent was in arrears. But he toiled doggedly on, existing on one meal a day, sleeping on a packing box in an unfurnished room, working often 18 hours a day. Finally the work was done.

To his copies of papers Smith now added newspaper clippings from newspapers and magazines dealing with amateur journalism, and photographs of amateur journalists and amateur gatherings. Every face in 1,350 photographs was identified and labeled. This entailed an immense amount of correspondence and research. The card index system contains over 14,000 cards, each showing the subject, country, year, and all the issues of that paper for the year. The papers are bound in volumes according to the year of publication. The papers of America are bound in olive green linen, those of foreign countries in royal blue silk, and the clippings in dark red linen. The file of the National Amateur, official organ of the National A. P. A., is bound in bottle green pebble Interlaken with half leather. The index cards are correspondingly colored.

In the meantime Smith had been looking out for some place where  the bound library could be placed that it would be safe and open to inspection. In October, 1908, the Pratt Institute Public Library of Brooklyn accepted the trust, and upon election day, November 5, the collection was thrown open to the public. A number of amateur journalists of the past and present were among those assembled for the simple ceremony.

The collection remained with the Pratt Institute for five years, attracting thousands by its unique character, exemplifying the enterprise and skill of American youth. Dr. Talcott Williams, director of the Pulitzer School of Journalism, Columbia University, told the Librarian of Pratt Institute that he wanted the collection to fill a missing link in the School of Journalism. Pratt having agreed to the removal, Dr. Williams wrote Smith that the ‘School of Journalism would feel honored if he would deposit in its library his “most interesting and unique collection on amateur journalism.” Smith gave his consent, and on December 1, 1913, the collection was removed to Columbia.

For some years a number of former amateur journalists had been considering the final disposition of the collection and its preservation for all time. As early as November, 1907, at a dinner attended by a number of amateur journalists of early days, the matter was discussed, and at various times several propositions were considered. In March, 1916, Mr. Charles C. Heuman, a former President of The Fossils, purchased the entire collection from Mr. Smith with the idea of investing its ownership in The Fossils. President Joseph Salabes of that body appointed as a committee to work out a plan for the taking over and displaying of the collection: Charles c. Heuman, Joseph Dana Miller, J. Austin Fynes and Louis Kempner.

This committee reported at the annual meeting of The Fossils, and their report was accepted. In accordance with their suggestion, funds were raised through voluntary subscription among the members to reimburse Mr. Heuman and to create a maintenance fund. Room 1302 in the New York Sun building, corner of Nassau and Spruce streets, was leased; the library was installed; Joseph Dana Mille was made Librarian; and every member of The Fossils was provided with a key. On October 10 the Library was formally opened and the attending members enjoyed a “Library Dinner,” James M. Beck acting as toastmaster. Twenty-one former amateur journalists were present.

Now that permanent possession of the collection was secured, many Fossils contributed their accumulations of papers and books. Allen Gray turned over papers dating from 1878 to 1882. George M. Huss sent on a collection of papers ranging from 1869 to 1880, and Will K. Graff’s widow donated Mr. Graff’s rare collection of papers, books and souvenirs, containing some very interesting g and valuable material. Other former amateurs contributed files of their old journals and other historical items.

As the years went by and a number of the members answered the summons of Death, some of the serious and far-seeing Fossils felt that the Library should find a location with some permanent institution, where it would be carefully preserved and open for inspection. The matter was taken up with several bodies, including the New York Public Library, the American Antiquarian Society, and especially the Congressional Library in Washington. The collection might have been deposited with the last named, but it was feared that in the process of time it might become lost and neglected in the vast spaces of that Library.

On June 18, 1930, a prominent member of the Fossils, Cyrus Curtis, broke ground for the $5,000,000 Benjamin Franklin Memorial in Philadelphia, Pa. It was the 80th birthday of Mr. Curtis, to whose inspiration and financial support the important project was due. It occurred to Leonard E. Tilden, long a special agent of the Labor Department at Washington, and a former President of the Fossils, that here would be the ideal place for the permanent home of the Fossil Library. Benjamin Franklin, the Printer, had been adopted as the patron saint of The Fossils, and Philadelphia had been the place where the National Amateur Press Association was formed in 1876. The then President, Evan R. Riale, one of the leading amateurs who had organized the N. A. P. A., appointed a committee to negotiate with the Franklin Memorial, and, if possible, to arrange for the locating of the Library within its walls. This committee consisted of Mr. Tilden as chairman, Cyrus H. K. Curtis, James M. Beck, at that time a Congressman from Pennsylvania, and George Nox McCain, editor of the Philadelphia Ledger.

The influential members of this committee consulted with the officials of the Franklin Institute, and on May 28, 1931, Mr. Curtis personally visited and inspected the Library in order to report as to its scope, condition and historic value. Following up his report, a conference was held at the Library on June 9, attended by Mr. Curtis, Mr. Heuman, Joseph Dana Miller (Fossil Librarian), James D. Lee and Howard McClenahan, the Director of Franklin Institute. Mr. McClenahan was greatly impressed by the value to history of the Library and its appropriateness as a permanent adjunct to the Franklin Memorial, and on June 16 he wrote to Mr. Heuman a formal acceptance of the Library, under these conditions: We shall house it permanently in the new Benjamin Franklin Memorial; it will be kept intact and will be in its own separate alcove in the library of the Franklin Institute; it will be available for all those who are competent to use it for research purposes, as well as for the members of The Fossils. So far as may be possible, the Franklin Institute will keep it up to date, and will add to it all appropriate material which we may be able to procure.

On April 6, 1935, the Fossil Library was removed to the Franklin Institute, and installed by Mr. Smith, the original collector. Housed in its new home, the Library contained 269 volumes of 27,353 copies of American amateur journals, dating from 1812 to 1914; 32 volumes of 2,031 foreign papers, from the year 1750; 10 volumes of clippings relating to amateur journalism; 967 amateur books, 1869 to 1938; 2,178 photographs of amateur journalists and conventions, and thousands of printed souvenirs and documents.

Thus there is preserved for future generations the concrete evidence of the enterprise, skill and literary ability of thousands of aspiring boys and girls. It is a phase of American and foreign literature represented in few libraries and nowhere to the extent of this particular collection. It is both interesting and unique.


The above was written by Truman J. Spencer and published in The History of Amateur Journalism, New York: The Fossils, 1957. It was written circa 1940.