Mr. Edward J. Smeltzer grew up at the turn of the 20th century in Pennsylvania, and later became a pioneer dime novel collector. He and another enthusiast, Baltimorean Robert Burns, conducted a short-lived “fanzine” called the Novel-Mart during the late 1930s and early 40s. Under the by-line of “J.E. Fisher,” Smeltzer penned the following little essay in the May-June 1941 issue. Its folksy grammar has been preserved.
“About 1907 I read my first novel, it was a Tip Top, cost me a penny. Novels were scarce, so I bought Novels that had been read and exchanged. A fellow who’s father owned a saloon, or a fellow who’s father had the will power to pass a Saloon, with it’s inviting swinging doors, free lunch etc and could give his Son a nickel was an exception. My Dad was neither of the two, so I got my penny by running errands for Ma and charging an extra penny on some article purchased. A brand new Tip Top Weekly sold for 5 cents, some boys read ’em before they went home, sat on some handy door step and in two hours returned the New novel for either 3 cents cash or took 3 older Novels in exchange. The 3 older Novels after being read were exchanged for 1/2 cent each.
The new Novel was sold, exchanged & resold, finally the bookstore man socked it with a big rubber Name stamp on the picture, inside on the first page of reading etc, if he felt playful he gave it a couple more stamps for good luck. Every boy in our neighbourhood read Novels swapped and sold ’em to each other, so I too got to be a Novel reader. No one gave a thought about saving them, they could be seen all over on display at Newsstands, Railroad Stations, Book Stores, candy Stores etc.
Cash registers were very rare in them days and when you forked over your Indian head for a book the storekeeper dropped it thru a hole in the counter, it fell into a wooden drawer underneath, you could tell by the sound when it dropped there wasn’t many others inside to keep it company.
One thing that excited my curiosity was when some young maiden came in the bookstore, whispered in the prop’s ear, blushed all over, seemed nervous, then quickly handing him the few greasy coppers, snatched, yes snatched the book and literally ran out with it. The proprietor told me she wanted a sexy love story, that the gals were nerts over ’em and he sold ’em like hot cakes.
Of course all the barber shops had the Police Gazette every week and a fellow who got his lunch hooks on one of ’em did not mind whether he was next or not, as the pictures of the gals in tights did then what Murine does for the eyes today.” — J.E. Fisher
| Newsstand under the “Third Avenue El” — the elevated railway in New York City, 1902|
THE FULL PICTURE above — the original black-and-white photograph, printed from a glass plate negative — depicts an open-air newsstand in New York City, December 1902, located under one of the midtown Manhattan platforms of the infamous “Third Avenue El.” The elevated railroad built in 1878 and torn down in 1955. Similar newsstands endured until the El’s demolition. This photo shows the great variety of illustrated papers and apparent nickel weeklies available at the time. Over on the right is a Nick Carter Weekly, a Bowery Boy Weekly, a Secret Service Weekly and possibly a Liberty Boys of 76. The photo is copyrighted 1903 and was taken in late 1902, based on the magazine issues clearly visible. The photo in large size can be seen HERE. A digitally colorized version from 2015 plus more analysis can be found HERE.
Below are some pictures of the same location. Two stereos of the Third Avenue El, a 1930s print by Australian artist Martin Lewis, a boy and his mother on the spot at 64th St. NYC in 1951 with “El” in the background, and a scavenger’s horse cart photographed circa 1961.
Reported by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra
[updated version of an earlier Yesterday’s Papers article published in May 2013]