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Scandal, Brothels and Blackmail: Announcing the Release of “American Underworld: The Flash Press”

Posted on 04/27/2018

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“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.


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These newspapers covered the seamier aspects of urban life: crime, scandal, brothels and blackmail, combined with reviews of the bawdiest theatrical performances on offer and reports on sporting events such as cock-fighting, boxing and horse racing. Among the rarest of all American newspapers, the titles in this Flash Press collection will hold particular interest to scholars in the fields of women’s studies, ethnic studies, urban life, criminal activity, journalism history and the underground economy and literature of the 19th century.

Here are a few of the scarce titles now available to researchers for online searching and browsing:


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For institutions that have already made this new collection available to their researchers, this downloadable poster and a matching bookmark are available for promotional efforts.



For more information about American Underworld: The Flash Press, please contact Readex Marketing.

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