The appearance of the terms “licentious” and “licentiousness” in American periodicals rose dramatically in the early 1840s in tandem with the rise of the unruly urban newspapers collectively called the Flash Press. Now a unique collection of this short-lived form of journalism, created from the exceptional holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, is available in digital form.
Learn more about the Flash Press in this new 1-Minute Video:
Discussing this collection, the scholar Robert Wilhelm, author of The Bloody Century: True Tales of Murder in 19th Century America, writes:
These 19th-century papers provide a missing link—a sympathetic view of the demimonde, appealing to a literate, urban and mostly male audience to balance the moralistic tone taken by mainstream publications of the time. While I was aware these papers existed, I had no idea how many different titles had been published and how many issues have survived. To have them all available in one place, carefully digitized and easily searchable, is invaluable. I was especially impressed by the quality of the illustrations which were often as important as the text in these publications and are as pleasing to contemporary readers as they were to rakes and sporting men. American Underworld: The Flash Press offers a unique perspective for scholars of American vice and crime as well as researchers in other scholarly areas such as urban life and women’s studies.
“When the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) was founded in 1812, its ambitious goal was to collect one of everything printed in the United States. Thus this national research library of early American history and culture has a premier collection of low-life raunchy urban periodicals. Rarely saved by more decorous libraries, these obscure publications define a largely masculine subculture (saloons, brothels, boxing rings) that posed a stark alternative to antebellum respectability.”
— Patricia Cohen, co-author of The Flash Press
In the first half of the 19th century a number of unruly urban newspapers—collectively called the Flash Press—began to appear. One of the earliest titles in this short-lived form of journalism was The Flash, which inspired scores of copycat papers. More than sixty of these heavily researched publications from the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society are planned for Readex’s American Underworld: The Flash Press. And now more than a third of these ephemeral titles have been digitized and released in this unique new digital newspaper collection.