Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Satchel

An article published 25 April, 2006 in Editor and Publisher was given the melancholy title The Paperboy Quietly Fades Away. As a former newspaper boy (in another lifetime) the article brought a gentle tear to an elderly eye.

The Satchel was an early comic periodical of 8 pages published by Berger and Purkess. This George Purkess was the father of the infamous proprietor of the Illustrated Police News. No. 1 of The Satchel was dated 5 March1831 and this 4 by 6 inch book collects the first nine issues. Each number contained one or two wood engravings. Three of the fourteen images that appeared were identified as by George Cruikshank. Most of the contributions were text in prose and poetry plus a few hoary old jokes of the Joe Miller Jest Book type.

The price shown on the cover seems expensive at 6d. But this contained 9 issues which probably cost one or one halfpenny per issue when published.

The cover is sweet: a shy looking street vendor looks back over his shoulder and carries a decorated bag. Vendors like this young feller (and older gentlemen as well) sold unstamped newspapers, police gazettes and comic periodicals on the streets.

Police spies would buy the unstamped news then turn the sellers in for a pound reward. The sellers took the jail time in stride, three squares a day and money from jail funds set up by the printers and publishers -- with contributions from the working class public -- helped them survive often onerous sentences at hard labour.

Did young Jemmy the newsboy go home to brutal gin-swilling parents at night? Were his parents’ respectable working class? Was he perchance an orphan, or raising a sister or brother? He may have ended up hung for stealing a sheep, but I like to think that his experience selling the gently humorous Satchel inspired him to eventually start a respectable penny newspaper of his own.

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