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243 Documents and Interpretations The Cooperstown Bible Kent P. Jackson, Brigham Young University Elihu Phinney was a veteran of the American War for Independence and a printer by trade. In February 1795, at the invitation of Judge William Cooper, he moved his family from Canaan, New York, to the frontier settlement of Cooperstown, New York, bringing with him the equipment from his print shop.1 He reported over a decade later that he “in the winter of 1795, penetrated a wilderness, and ‘broke a track,’ through a deep snow with six teams, in the ‘depth’ of winter, and was received with a cordiality, bordering on homage, to preserve which has ever been his aim.” In Cooperstown, he established a business next door to the courthouse—a bookstore and printing establishment.2 He began publishing a newspaper, the Otsego Herald, and in time began publishing books and a popular almanac called Phinney’s Calendar, or Western Almanac.3 His bookstore offered a variety of works by several publishers. An early advertisement in the Herald listed an impressive 350 titles in his stock.4 His store 1. For biographical material on the Phinneys, see S. T. Livermore, A Condensed History of Cooperstown (Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1862), 157–63; Kathryn Klim Sturrock, “The Phinneys of Cooperstown 1795–1850” (M.A. thesis, State University of New York, College at Oneonta, 1972); Alan Taylor, William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995); and Stephen R. Wiist, “A History of Printing in Cooperstown, N.Y., 1795–1850” (M.A. thesis, State University of New York, College at Oneonta, 1973). Livermore’s book was published while Elihu Phinney Jr. was still alive and residing in Cooperstown. See also Madeleine B. Stern, Books and Book People in 19th-Century America (New York and London: R. R. Bowker, 1978), 4–7, 23–24; and Milton W. Hamilton, The Country Printer: New York State, 1785–1830, 2d ed. (Port Washington, NY: Ira J. Friedman, 1964), 291 and references in index. 2. Otsego Herald, November 5, 1808. See also James Fenimore Cooper, The Chronicles of Cooperstown (Cooperstown, NY: H. & E. Phinney, 1838), 42. The shop stood on Second (now Main) Street, immediately to the east of the building on the southeast corner of Second and West Streets (now Main and Pioneer Streets). 3. See Wiist, “A History of Printing,” Part One, 6–29. 4. Otsego Herald, September 25, 1800. Phinney’s Calendar for 1800 announced that the store contained “upwards of two thousand volumes”; cited in Wiist, “A History of Printing,” Part One, 38. 244 ■ NEW YORK HISTORY also sold other items we generally do not associate with bookstores today, including swords, spectacles, tobacco, medicine, walking canes, and vegetable seeds.5 Working with him in his printing business were two of his sons, Henry (1782–1850) and Elihu (1785–1863). In 1807 they established a print shop of their own.6 Elihu Sr. had built a thriving business, and it was doing well when he died in 1813. His two sons inherited it and expanded on their father’s foundation to make the family enterprise not only one of the largest and most important businesses in the village but also a significant contributor to the national print industry. Their four-story brick shop (with compositors, presses, and bindery on the upper floors and the bookstore on the ground floor) was located around the corner from their father’s original building. They called the firm “H. & E. Phinney,” and Henry and Elihu became prosperous and important citizens.7 In 1821, they stopped publishing the Otsego Herald, but they continued to print an almanac, which eventually grew to an annual circulation of around two hundred thousand.8 In their book publishing, they gravitated into three areas of specialization: children’s books, educational books, and Bibles. Even though they printed more of other works, it was the Bible that secured the place of H. & E. Phinney in the history of American book publishing. If quality of product and sales are indicators, the Phinneys were at the right place at the right time to be successful. They were part of a wave of print...


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