Excelsior: The Mind Behind America's Original Comic & Pulp Distributor

The American News Company was founded in 1864 by Sinclair Tousey in New York City.  During the final days of the Civil War, and the decade beyond, the periodical publishing business exploded, and American News soon came to dominate the distribution of magazines, dime novels, story papers, pulps, comic papers, comic books, and other national periodicals for nearly a century.  Tousey is clearly the most important person in American periodical publishing history. And given American News Company's power to shape the nation's media landscape, he's arguably one of the most important business figures in American history overall as well — and certainly the most under-studied.

While an overview of Tousey's history is beyond the scope of this single post, I'm compelled to make this small start by a surprise recent acquisition to my collection: this hand-inscribed copy of Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870, which represents the only handwriting I've ever seen by Tousey.  Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 is a privately-published collection of Tousey's written magazine columns, letters to the editor, and other missives over a vital decade in American history.

Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.
Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.

Tousey was a staunch abolitionist, an ally of Abraham Lincoln, and a man who was surprisingly politically progressive for his time. Indices contains his thoughts on Emancipation, race relations in the United States, and the social and political issues of his time.

Notably, it also contains his account of several lesser-known governmental attempts to regulate the periodical publishing business that was exploding at that time — including the recurring specter of the Stamp Tax on periodicals, an attempt to force couriers and distributors of certain goods to be licensed by the government, and an attempt to restrict vendors such as newsdealers to citizens of the state in which they did business. All of these measures would've had a significant impact on the industry that Tousey was helping to build. He adroitly beat back each such attempt.

The small print run of this volume seems to have been largely sent to the political figures of his era. While researching this volume recently, I noticed that there exists a thank you letter to Tousey from Ulysses S. Grant for sending him the book. The person to whom my copy was inscribed, R.N. Harens, was a New York City attorney who was involved with Tousey in many political and civic organizations of that city. I'd recommend that any person interested in American history give this slim volume a look. It's a quick read and worth your time.

Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.
Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.

Sinclair Tousey's Political Motto, Excelsior!

In the meantime, I'll quote this passage that made me smile when I saw it:

The motto of our grand old State is, EXCELSIOR.

No true man will by word or vote do aught to tarnish that escutcheon, to take one ray of light from its glittering brightness, to give one grain of aid or comfort to the enemies of the Union, to the fore of liberty, to those who in the past tried to destroy all that makes this, the youngest of the nations, the pride and marvel of the century.

Voters ! The Ballot means something.

The right to wield it demands duties.

Privilege is allied to responsibility.

The State and the Nation trust their destinies to those who vote. See to it, men of New York, that your votes are on the right side. See to it, that the future has reason to be proud of your action in the present.

See that the indifferent, the doubtful ones are enlightened on the issues of the hour ; labor with all your well-meaning neighbors whose friendships or former political associations incline them to the ranks of our opponents ; reason with them ; show them the dangers of the path they are tempted to follow ; urge them by every plea for peace, prosperity, honor, justice and love of country, to vote for GRANT, COLFAX, and GRISWOLD, as the only sure way to escape the horrors of another rebellion, the sacrifice of more lives, and the accumulation of more debt.

On Election day, bring the old, the infirm, to the voting places. Do this in a manner worthy of the men of the Empire State, and you will, after the smoke of the battle shall have cleared away, and peace, security, and the rights of person and property have their universal recognition over every foot of land that the old Flag flutters over, turn with pride to the present hour, and tell your children that you helped to establish these blessings for them and their successors. Then, from hill-side and valley, from farm and work-shop, shall go up, with new glory, echoed by the voices of honest freemen, our State's ennobling motto—"Excelsior."

While complaints about American News Company's monopoly power had begun as early as 1887, the beginning of the end approached in 1952 when the Federal Trade Commission charged that American News Company's business practices were unlawful under the Clayton Act.  The matter hinged on the notion that distributor American News Company also owned America's largest retail news vendor, Union News.  Amidst the protracted legal battle with the FTC, American News ultimately ceased operations as a periodical distributor in June 1957 — although most periodical publishers had switch to other distributors by that time. While most sources say that the company became defunct in 1957, this is not strictly true.  American News Company continued on in other service businesses such as food concessions for a number of subsequent years.  There's much more to say about Sinclair Tousey and his widely-misunderstood American News Company which he founded, and I'll be tackling this subject again here at Bleeding Cool in the near future.

Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.
Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.
Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.
Indices of Public Opinion 1860-1870 by American News Company Founder Sinclair Tousey.

About Mark Seifert

Co-founder and Creative director of Bleeding Cool parent company Avatar Press. Bleeding Cool Managing Editor, tech and data wrangler. Machine Learning hobbyist. Vintage paper addict.

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