Sunday Mercury (New York)

Sunday Mercury (New York)
Sunday Mercury
Sunday Mercury Title 1865.jpg
Type Weekly newspaper (1839–1893)
Daily (1893–1896)
Format broadsheet
Founded 1839
Ceased publication 1896
Headquarters Manhattan
Circulation 145,000 (1861)
OCLC number 9588307

The Sunday Mercury (1839–1896) (sometimes referred to as the New York Sunday Mercury) was a weekly Sunday newspaper published in New York City that grew to become the highest-circulation weekly newspaper in the United States at its peak.[1] It was known for publishing and popularizing the work of many notable 19th century writers including Charles Farrar Browne and Robert Henry Newell, and was the first Eastern paper to publish Mark Twain.[2] It was also the first newspaper to provide regular coverage of baseball, and was popular for the extensive war correspondence from soldiers it published during the Civil War.



Early years

Prior to 1825, no American newspapers published editions on Sunday, out of respect to Sabbath. Over time, however, this created a niche for weekly newspapers published on Sunday to flourish.[3][4]

Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834), the inspiration for the comic "Short Patent Sermons" written by Elbridge G. Paige under the name "Dow Jr." in the Mercury

The Mercury originated as the Sunday Morning Visiter, and was first published on May 12, 1839. By 1840, it changed its name to the Sunday Mercury.[4] It initially gained some notice for its theatrical coverage and so-called "machine poetry" (a 19th century euphemism for slavishly following the "rules" of poetry without any inspiration).[5] By the fall of 1842 the paper had a circulation of 3,000, ranking it third among New York's Sunday papers, trailing the New York Herald’s Sunday edition and The Atlas.[5] By the summer of 1844, the Herald took note of the growth of the Sunday papers, calling them "partly literary, partly gossiping, partly silly, partly smart, partly stupid, partly namby-pamby."[4]

Elbridge Gerry Paige (1813-1859) and Samuel Nichols (1809?-1854) were the two key editors of the Mercury in its early years,[4][6] and Augustus Krauth joined them as a one-third owner in 1842.[7]

Top half of front page of August 5, 1849 Sunday Mercury

Paige had success with his Short Patent Sermons published in the paper (from its outset) under the pseudonym "Dow Junior" (a reference to famous eccentric preacher Lorenzo Dow who died in 1834),[6][8] which literary magazines such as The Knickerbocker lauded for their for their odd and original wit.[9][10] Paige left the paper in 1849 and went to California, where he continued to publish Dow Jr. sermons in The Golden Era[11], but ultimately was unsuccessful there and is said to have died in extreme poverty in 1859.[6]

Nichols was born in Hampstead, England around 1809 and after coming to New York City was eventually installed as the editor of the New Times, an organ of the "Conservatives" political party.[12] After that venture failed, he joined the Sunday Mercury and grew it with Paige.[12] His work focused on the theater.[4] Nichols stayed with the paper until his death in September 1854, when he was run over after unsuccessfully trying to board a Third Avenue Railway car.[12]

Krauth, the other one-third owner of the paper, died in November 1857.[13]

Growth, Baseball, and War

William Cauldwell, the "father of Sunday journalism"[14]

In 1850, William Cauldwell (1824-1907)[15][14] purchased Paige's one-third ownership stake[16] in the paper for $1,200.[1] Cauldwell had gotten into the newspaper field by doing typsetting work, and worked at the New York Sunday Atlas from 1841-49.[1][17] Cauldwell expanded the paper and increased its coverage of literature, city news, and sports.[1] Sylvester Southworth and Horace P. Whitney (1834- August 24, 1884)[18] soon joined as additional editors, and the paper began to prosper.[1]

Cauldwell and the Mercury are credited as being the first newspaper to regularly cover the sport of baseball as news, starting in 1853 with a report on a game between the Knickerbockers and the Gothams. (For some time, this 1853 report was thought to be first game ever reported on by the press, but later 20th century scholarship has located an 1845 report in the Herald.)[19][20][21][22][23] The paper was the first to use the phrase "national pastime", in December 1856.[24] In 1858, Cauldwell hired rising star Henrick Chadwick, later dubbed the "father of baseball", to cover the sport for the paper.[25]

By early 1861, the Mercury's circulation was 145,000, but the advent of Civil War cut off about 90,000 of them located in the southern and western United States.[1][2] Cauldwell hit upon an idea for expanding their war coverage with little expense. In April 1861, the paper made an announcement inviting soldiers to send in their reports about the war, and over 3,000 were published during the course of the war as a weekly feature.[1][3] The soldiers would receive a free copy of the paper for their contributions. In 2000, Civil War historian William B. Styple compiled 500 of the letters in a book, Writing and Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury.[3]

In 1873, Rowell's American Newspaper Directory stated that with a circulation of 45,000, "the circulation of the Sunday Mercury exceeds that of any other Sunday or daily newspaper in America without exception, and more than triples the combined issues of all the other Sunday journals published in New York."[26]

Southworth retired from the paper before the end of the war, and Whitney departed around 1876 due to poor health, leaving Cauldwell solely in charge.[1] In addition to running the paper Cauldwell also held political office, serving in the New York State Senate from 1868 to 1879, and also serving as Bronx supervisor.[15][27]

Ill-fated expansion and collapse

By the early 1890s, competition with the New York daily papers had increased. The paper responded by introducing a one cent daily newspaper dubbed the Daily Mercury, billed as a Democratic paper, in January 1893.[28][29][30][31] The new venture was quickly losing money, however. Cauldwell apparently began to borrow funds from the estate of millionaire Jason Rogers, of which he was a co-trustee with his son-in-law Thomas Rogers, to try to keep the paper afloat.[32] Some sources reported that it was Jason Rogers' and Cauldwell's mutual grandson (also named Jason Rogers) who convinced Cauldwell to expand the paper in the first place.[32] The younger Rogers, for his part, later blamed the failure of the paper on a decision by the "boss" to launch the daily edition as a morning paper, upsetting carefully laid plans and a large number of advance subscriptions for a paper based on afternoon publication.[28][15] (Rogers later went on to transform the Commercial Advertiser into The New York Globe, and helped found the Audit Bureau of Circulations.[33])

Richard Croker, who influenced the Mercury after consolidation with his Daily America in 1894

In May 1893, Richard Croker, a leader of New York City's Tammany Hall political machine, jumped into the newspaper field and created The Daily America devoted to politics to trumpet Tammany's views (though it also covered sports; Croker was a big horse racing enthusiast).[34] The other Democratic papers in the city balked at the new competition, however, and Croker turned over the paper to the Mercury by the end of the year.[35] In January 1894, The New York Times reported that the two papers had "consolidated" (and that some of "the gentlemen" involved in the America would retain an interest) and would henceforth be published as The Daily America on weekdays with the Sunday Mercury below in small type, and reversed on Sundays.[36]

In August 1894, Cauldwell, now almost 70, gave up editorial control with his grandson Jason Rogers stepping in as publisher, and James F. Graham taking on the editorial duties.[37] The paper also dropped the Daily America title, although it remained a Democratic paper.[37]

The paper continued to lose money (reportedly about $2000 a week),[38] and in March 1895 Cauldwell sold out to William Noble in a somewhat unusual exchange, where he received a hotel called the Hotel Empire (a project which Noble had bought out of foreclosure in 1893 and completed) in exchange for the paper.[39][40]

News reports from mid-1895 reported that "silver men", whose support in the East had been limited, had now purchased the paper to be their organ.[41][42][43][44] Although the paper did advocate in support of free silver in 1895, it appears the anticipated sale to "silver men" fell apart, as Noble had to file for bankruptcy in 1899 due to his Mercury debts.[45][46]

The Mercury offices on Park Row, circa 1894

During this same period (early-mid 1895), Adolph Ochs, then-editor of the Chattanooga Times, was invited to become editor and half-owner of the Mercury in its "free silver" campaign.[38][47] Ochs turned the offer down, in part because of his own support for the gold standard.[47] The paper was then offered to Ochs for outright sale, but that also did not come to fruition when it turned out that the Mercury could not assure that its rights to press association copy would transfer to a new owner.[48][49] Ochs remained on the lookout for a New York paper, however, and in August 1896 he purchased the then also-struggling New York Times.[48]

The Mercury ceased publishing altogether under that that name around late 1896. Some older sources state the paper failed in 1895, but it was being published well into 1896, though it was certainly on its last legs. On September 20, 1896, the New York Times reported that the office of the Mercury "was still closed last night"[50] and the Chicago Tribune printed on September 28 that the "free silver sentiment in New York was not even warm enough to prevent the fail of the New York Mercury."[51]

When Cauldwell died in 1907, the New York Tribune called him "the father of Sunday journalism."[14]

Rebirth as the Morning Telegraph

By end of 1896, the operations of the Mercury were taken over and redubbed the New York Morning Telegraph, focusing on sporting (especially horse racing) and theatrical news much as the Mercury had been doing at that point.[15][28][52] According to one account published in 1940, the name change came about when Tammany Hall gave $10,000 to writer Blakely Hall, "to run it with the understanding that he was not to get a nickel more. Hall threw out the Mercury title, called the 'new' sheet the Morning Telegraph, hired (Leander) Richardson as managing editor, and put it out as a daily sporting and theatrical newspaper."[53]

The Telegraph went on to become a successful paper and was published until shut down during a strike in 1972. The Telegraph considered itself a continuation of the Mercury, though along the way it somehow backdated its claimed date of founding from 1839 to 1833.[54]

Noted contributors and legacy

Robert Henry Newell, aka Orpheus C. Kerr, circa 1864, whose humorous writings first drew national attention in the Sunday Mercury

Aside from the Short Patent Sermons which brought acclaim to Paige's "Dow Jr." pseudonym in the 1840s, the Mercury went on to publish the work of many leading 19th century writers, and was at times the first to introduce them to New York and national audiences, including Mark Twain, Josh Billings, Charles Farrar Browne (Artemus Ward), Robert Henry Newell (Orpheus C. Kerr),[55] Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Charles Godfrey Leland, David Ross Locke (Petroleum V. Nasby), [15][56] Ned Buntline, and Mortimer Thomson (Doesticks).[57] Though most of those names are not familiar today, all became well-known popular writers of the time.

Mark Twain's first writing published in the East appeared in the Mercury in 1864 (prior to his success in 1865 with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County), and a number of additional pieces were published in 1867.[2][58][16]

Newell, who wrote under the name "Orpheus C. Kerr" (a play on "office seeker"), served for a time as the literary editor of the Mercury, until around 1862. His satirical weekly columns started in Mercury and gained national fame,[59][60] so much so that President Abraham Lincoln once remarked of Kerr's writings that “anyone who has not read them is a heathen.”[61]

Celebrated actress Adah Isaacs Menken contributed a series of poems to the Mercury in 1860-61, as well as a piece praising Walt Whitman and Leaves of Grass in 1860 as "centuries ahead of his contemporaries".[62][63][64]

Starting in the mid 1870s, John W. Overall (1822-1899) served as literary editor of the paper (until at least 1890). A Southerner, Overall is best known for his pre-Civil War writing supporting the South.[65][66][67][68]

Historian James W. Cook, in a 2005 compilation of writings by P. T. Barnum (of circus fame, who also appeared in the Mercury), notes that in the mid 1860s, the Mercury was "ubiquitous, with a masthead claim of the largest weekly circulation in America," yet today publications such as the Mercury, which contained few illustrations, are difficult to locate in library collections.[57]

Chronology of editors and publishers

  • Editors:
  • 1855: Krauth, Cauldwell & Southworth
  • 1858-61: Cauldwell, Southworth & Whitney
  • 1867: Cauldwell & Whitney
  • 1876: William Cauldwell
  • 1894: James F. Graham
  • Publishers:
  • 1839: E.G. Paige & J.H. Wilson
  • 1839-40: Paige, Wilson & Nichols
  • 1840-41: Paige & Nichols
  • 1842-48: Paige, Nichols & Krauth
  • 1854-55: Krauth & Cauldwell
  • 1855: Krauth, Cauldwell & Southworth
  • 1858-61: Cauldwell, Southworth & Whitney
  • 1862-70: Cauldwell & Whitney
  • 1876: William Cauldwell[69]
  • 1894: Jason Rogers, grandson of Cauldwell


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Styple, William B. Writing & Fighting the Civil War: Soldier Correspondence to the New York Sunday Mercury, p. 9-11 (2000) (ISBN 978-1883926137)
  2. ^ a b c Caron, James E. Mark Twain: unsanctified newspaper reporter, p.166 (2008)(ISBN 978-0826218025)
  3. ^ a b c Goode, Stephen (26 March 2001) Styple Delivers News From Civil war Front, Insight on the News, Retrieved November 2, 2010
  4. ^ a b c d e Hudson, Frederic. Journalism in the United States, from 1690-1872, p.339-40 (1873)
  5. ^ a b Lee, Alfred McClung. The Daily Newspaper In America, p.392 (1937)
  6. ^ a b c Library of universal knowledge, Volume XI, p.175 (1881)
  7. ^ (22 January 1842) Our Weekly Gossip, Brother Jonathan, p.101
  8. ^ Paige, Elbridge Gerry. Short Patent Sermons by 'Dow Jr.' (1845)
  9. ^ Lorenzo Dow's Successor, The Knickerbocker (November 1840, pp.449-51)
  10. ^ Bryant, John. Melville and repose: the rhetoric of humor in the American Renaissance, p.127 (1993)(ISBN 978-0195077827)
  11. ^ Gossip with readers and correspondents, The Knickerbocker (February 1860, pp.234-35)
  12. ^ a b c (20 September 1854) An Editor Killed - Death of Mr. Samuel Nicholls, The New York Times, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  13. ^ (7 November 1857). Unknown title, Sunday Mercury
  14. ^ a b c (3 December 1907) Ex-Senator William Cauldwell, New York Tribune, Retrieved November 2, 2010
  15. ^ a b c d e (3 December 1907) Ex-Senator Cauldwell Dead Former Owner of The Mercury and The Successful American, The New York Times, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  16. ^ a b Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Westchester County, New York (1886)
  17. ^ Cauldwell, William (26 January 1901) Walt Whitman as a Young Man, The New York Times, Retrieved November 8, 2010 (letter to editor from Cauldwell which notes he met Walt Whitman while doing typesetting at the Atlas)
  18. ^ Mortuary Record, 1884 in Star Almanac, p.95 (1885)
  19. ^ Zoss, Joel & Bowman, John. Diamonds in the Rough: The Untold History of Baseball, p. 59 (2004)(ISBN 978-0803299207) (discussing different claims to who was "first" to cover baseball, noting that 1853 Mercury reports had been thought to be first in past baseball scholarship)
  20. ^ Mack, Connie (26 April 1950). Lauds Press' Help To Sport, The Miami News, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  21. ^ Martinez, Jose (25 October 2000). Went to bat for baseball: Newspaperman behind game accounts, Daily News (New York), Retrieved November 1, 2010
  22. ^ (13 October 1957) End of an era, The New York Times, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  23. ^ (1 July 1905) Henry Chadwick: The Father of Baseball, The Spokesman-Review, Retrieved November 1, 2010 (citing Henry Chadwick as reporting that the Mercury was the first paper covering baseball, with Cauldwell regularly reporting on games played in New York City)
  24. ^ Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball As History, p.3 (Oxfor University Press 2000)(Paperback, 2001, ISBN 978-0195146042)
  25. ^ Spink, Alfred Henry. The national game, p. 356 (1911)
  26. ^ Rowell's American Newspaper Directory, p.153 (1873)
  27. ^ Reilly, Brendan (18 March 2009). Noyac house nominated to historic registers, Southampton Press, Retrieved November 8, 2010 (noting Cauldwell's political positions; article focus on proposal to place his summer home in Noyack, New York built in 1892 on the national and New York registers of historical places)
  28. ^ a b c Rogers, Jason. Newspaper building, p.78-80 (1918)
  29. ^ (16 January 1893). A New Metropolitan Daily (short), Free Press (Easton, Pennsylvania), Retrieved November 5, 2010
  30. ^ (17 January 1893). New Notes of the Metropolis, Chicago Tribune, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  31. ^ King, Moses. Kings handbook of New York City, p.626 (1893)(noting 1893 founding and one cent price)
  32. ^ a b (12 May 1898) A Heavy Fine: Thomas Rogers Goes To Jail in Default, The Evening Times (Washington, D.C.), Retrieved November 2, 2010
  33. ^ (27 April 1932) Jason Rogers Dead; Former Publisher, The New York Times, Retrieved November 8, 2010
  34. ^ (14 May 1893) Devoted to Sports and Politics, The New York Times, Retrieved November 2, 2010
  35. ^ (28 November 1893) Personal and political, Lewiston Evening Journal, Retrieved November 2, 2010
  36. ^ (11 January 1894) Two Newspapers Consolidated, The New York Times, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  37. ^ a b (1 August 1894) The Mercury Under A New Manager, The New York Times, Retrieved November 1, 2010
  38. ^ a b Douglas, George H. The Golden Age of the newspaper, p.120 (Greenwood 1999) (ISBN 978-0313310775)
  39. ^ (20 March 1895) In the Real Estate Field ... Exchange of the Hotel Empire, The New York Times, Retrieved November 4, 2010
  40. ^ (10 November 1897) Accused by Sisters-In-Law, The Evening Times (Washington, D.C.), Retrieved November 2, 2010
  41. ^ (27 April 1895 Few Liners, Lewiston Saturday Journal, Retrieved November 3, 2010
  42. ^ (2 May 1895)Silver Organ for New York, Clinton Morning Age, Retrieved November 3, 2010
  43. ^ Two More Free Coinage Papers, Evening Dispatch (Provo, Utah), Retrieved November 3, 2010 (reporting that Senators Stewart and Bryan had tried to buy the paper, but rebuffed the $250,000 asking price, and negotiations have been renewed with John P. Miller and Major Thomas B. Kirby involved, trying to induce a contribution of funds from Marcus Daly of Montana)
  44. ^ (28 May 1895) Free Silver Men Have An Organ, Baltimore American, Retrieved November 3, 2010 (reporting that the Mercury will start advocating for free silver "tomorrow", with Major Kirby as its new editor, and claimed to be a "production" of Congressman William A. Jones of Virginia)
  45. ^ William Noble a Bankrupt ... His Failure Attributed to a Newspaper Venture, The New York Times, Retrieved November 3, 2010
  46. ^ La Follette v. Noble (Superior Court of New York City 1895) (providing details of the arrangements between Cauldwell, Noble, and the "silver men")
  47. ^ a b Duffus, Robert L. (19 September 1926) 1851-1926: The Story of the Times, The New York Times, Retrieved November 3, 2010
  48. ^ a b Davis, Elmer Holmes. History of the New York times, 1851-1921 (1921)
  49. ^ Tifft, Susan E. & Jones, Alex S. The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind The New York Times (2000)(ISBN 9780316836319)
  50. ^ (20 September 1896) City and Vicinity, The New York Times (noting that the office of the Mercury "was still closed last night"), Retrieved November 2, 2010
  51. ^ (28 September 1896) Other news items Chicago Tribune, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  52. ^ (27 September 1899) Massage Advertising, Printer's Ink, p. 16, Retrieved November 5, 2010 (article noting that Morning Telegraph was at that point the only paper to allow "massage advertisements", and also noting that the Mercury changed to the Telegraph name but did not change that policy)
  53. ^ Gilbert, Douglas. American vaudeville, its life and times, p.154 (1940)
  54. ^ (9 March 1956)Noted Newsman Is Guest At Whitehall Hotel, The Palm Beach Post, Retrieved November 3, 2010
  55. ^ The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, p.817-18 (2003) (ISBN 0826415172)
  56. ^ (2 August 1896). Old New York Weeklies, Brooklyn Eagle, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  57. ^ a b Cook, James W. (ed.) The Colossal P. T. Barnum Reader, p.10-11 (2005) (ISBN 978-0252072956)
  58. ^ Mark Twain in the New York Sunday Mercury,, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  59. ^ (13 July 1901) Robert H. Newell Dead, The New York Times, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  60. ^ (20 July 1901). Derby, George. Orpheus C. Kerr: His Recent Death in Brooklyn and the True Facts in his Career, The New York Times, Retrieved November 5, 2010
  61. ^ Thomas, Benjamin P. “Lincoln’s Humor: An Analysis,” 3 Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (1981)
  62. ^ Sentilles, Renée M. Performing Menken: Adah Isaacs Menken and the birth of American celebrity (2003) (ISBN 978-0521820707)
  63. ^ Haralson, Eric L. Encyclopedia of American poetry: The nineteenth century, 194-96 (1998) (ISBN 978-1579580087)
  64. ^ Alcaro, Marion Walker. Walt Whitman's Mrs. G: a biography of Anne Gilchrist, p.129-30 (1991)(ISBN 978-0838633816)
  65. ^ Herringshaw, Thomas William (ed.) Local and national poets of America, p.711-12 (1890) (biographical sketch and poetry samples of John W. Overall, noting that he has been literary editor of the paper for "over fourteen years")
  66. ^ (21 May 1899). Death list a day, Retrieved November 19, 2010
  67. ^ M'Caleb, Thomas. The Louisiana book: selections from the literature of the state, p.514 (1894)
  68. ^ Davidson, James Wood. The living writers of the South, p.403-07 (1869)
  69. ^ About this Newspaper: Sunday Mercury, Chronicling America website, Retrieved November 2, 2010

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