Robert W. Nelson

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1. Overview

Robert Wickham Nelson (1851-08-20 - 1926-07-28). A relatively early biographical sketch of him, written by someone independent of the printing industry, appears in Spalding's Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut . The article in The Inland Printer on the occasion of Nelson's 60th birthday ( see below) also gives a biographical sketch of him. The article is anonymous, but it's hard to imagine that its author isn't Henry Lewis Bullen.

Spalding says that he "was born in Granville ... New York, September 20, 1851." and that he was trained as a printer. Curiously, the 1911 sketch in the Inland Printer makes no mention of any training in printing, but notes that he purchased a newspaper in Illinois in 1877.

Nelson was "one of the founders of the American Press Association" [IP v27] in Chicago in 1882. [Johanningsmeier] and [Spalding]. The APA was forerunner of the later syndicated wire services; it supplied news and stories to subscribers on ready-to-use stereotype plates.

The 1911 sketch claims that "much of the profits he derived from the American Press Association were invested in the Thorne typesetting machine." Spalding simply says that "five years ago, while still connected with the American Press Association, Mr. Nelson became interested in the ingenious Thorne Type-Setting Machine, then manufactured in a small way in Hartford by its inventor and patentee, Joseph Thorne." Spalding published in 1891, so this would have been about 1886.

Several sources confirm that Nelson came to the American Typefounders Company in 1894, first as a member of the board of directors and then as the General Manager (but in fact assuming the role of chief executive officer). A 1901 trade note in The Inland Printer dates his assumption of the presidency of ATF in name as well to that year.

My date of 1926 comes from Dr. James Eckman's index to Henry Lewis Bullen's "Collectanea Typographica"; I'm certain an obituary must have appeared in The Inland Printer, but I haven't yet tracked it down.

2. Literature

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Spalding (1891)

Spalding, J. A. Illustrated Popular Biography of Connecticut. (Hartford, CT: Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company, 1891)

Digitized by Google. The icon at left links to an extract of the pages on Nelson, presented as a PDF.

Here is the portrait of Nelson from this 1891 volume (as digitized in the 21st century). The larger version you get when you click on it isn't all that large (380 x 488 pixels), or good, but it is the full resolution available from the Google scan. As Nelson made his first fortune in the syndicated delivery of high-resolution combined text and imagery, there is an irony here.

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Inland Printer (1901)

"New President of the American Type Founders Company." [in Trade Notes section] The Inland Printer, Vol. 27, No. 1 (April, 1901): 99. This notice marks his move from General Manager to President. It also notes that he "was one of the founders of the American Press Association, and ... was afterward connected with the Thorne Typesetting Machine Company, being president of that concern." It dates his election to the board of ATF to 1894.

Digitized by Google from the University of Minnesota copy and available via The Hathi Trust (Hathi ID: umn.31951001898752g) The icon here links to an extract of the Nelson article as a PDF.

Here's the portrait of Nelson from this article. Note that the "screening"/moire effect is present as an artifact of the Google/Hathi digitization. It is unlikely that it is present in the original, and it was not introduced in my digital processing.

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Bullen, Inland Printer (July, 1907)

Quadrat [Henry Lewis Bullen]. "Discursions of a retired Printer," No. 10. The Inland Printer, Vol. 39, No. 4 (July, 1907): 512 (frontis), 513-519. Subjects: "The American Type Founders Company - The Causes Leading to Its Formation - Its Initial Difficulties and Final Success - Robert W. Nelson - Founders of the American Press Association - Present Harmonious Relations Among Competing Letter-Founders - Progressiveness of American Typefounders."

This volume has been scanned by Google from the University of Michigan copy and is available via The Hathi Trust (Hathi ID: mdp.39015086781286). The PDF here is an extract of it from that digitization.

This article contains a portrait of Nelson. Here it is as an image file:

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Inland Printer (1911)

"In Honor of Robert W. Nelson's Sixtieth Birthday." The Inland Printer. Vol. 48, No. 2 (November, 1911).

Digitized by Google from the University of Minnesota copy (their digitization of the Univ. of Michigan copy of this volume is very poor) and available via The Hathi Trust (Hathi ID: umn.319510018987738) The icon here links to an extract of the Nelson article as a PDF.

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3. Notes and References

[IP v27] "New President of the American Type Founders Company." [in Trade Notes section] The Inland Printer, Vol. 27, No. 1 (April, 1901): 99. ( reprinted above)

[Johanningsmeier] Johanningsmeier, Charles A. Fiction and the American Literary Marketplace: The Role of Newspaper Syndicates in America, 1860-1900 . Cambridge, UK: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1997.

Johanningsmeier indicates that the American Press Association was founded in 1882 in Chicago by Orlando J. Smith, R. W. Nelson, and G. W. Cummings. (p. 43) It was originally a "plate service" which distributed news and other material to subscribing newspapers via stereotype plates (colloquially, "boilerplate"). It would appear to be unrelated to the current organization of the same name. In 1917, it sold its plate service business to the Western Newspaper Union and continued as a provider of advertising services ("American Press Retires from Plate Business" The Fourth Estate (Sept. 15, 1917): 12).

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