Thursday, July 7, 2011

Manning's Directory: A Look at the Past

My father recently shared with me a fascinating bit of Americana. It's a book called Manning's Oneonta and Cooperstown Directory (1963), but you would never get that name from the book's cover.

Orange hardback covered in black ink ads for small businesses
That's because every possible bit of the thing is covered with ads.

Orange hardback covered in black ink ads for small businesses
Yes, the paper sides of the book have been stamped with an advertisement.

Side of book with name, address and phone number stamped in black ink
Orange spine of the book with three ads and the book titleAnd even the spine is mostly ads. This is the only spot on the outside of the book where you can get the title, though -- just below the first ad.

What is this book, which by 1963 was in its 40th year of publishing?

Essentially, it's a reverse directory. The first part of the book is a listing of every business and person in the city of Oneonta, N.Y., in alphabetical order. If the person is male (as in most cases), his wife's first name is listed in parentheses after his full name. His occupation (but not hers) is given, and then his address.

(An amusing note is that the businesses listed in the front include not a single liquor bar. Oneonta -- a town with two colleges-- is known for its high number of bars. Somehow, they were all classified as restaurants.)

The last half of the book (printed on pink paper), is a list of every street in the city, in alphabetical order, with the residents and businesses listed numerically by address. If the person had a phone, a little Bell Telephone outline precedes the name; if he is a homeowner, an "o" in a circle (kind of like a copyright symbol, except with an o instead of a c) follows the name. No phone numbers are given, though, so it's not a phone book.

And, of course, at the top or bottom of every single page is yet another ad.

Manning's published a new book yearly and, according to the text, there were about 2,000 new entries for 1963, 2,000 deleted entries for people who had moved away, and over 2,000 edited entries in this edition. That's a lot of churn in a city with a population of just 14,000. The publishers would have maintained the directory information in a card file, I assume. Imagine maintaining that! Of course, the need for such a book was instantly wiped out once the Internet met a database (not to mention mapping software).

The physical book is pretty neat. It's all set in metal type, I assume with a Linotype or other hot metal compositor, though I don't think it was printed letterpress. (By the 1960s, it was becoming common to set type with metal then use proof prints to create plates for offset lithography. I suspect that's the case here.)

The title page tells us it had a cover price of $30 (which is over $200 in 2010 dollars), though I suspect that was mostly for show. It was probably given away or sold cheap as a premium by insurance agents or businesses like that.

Ad for Bresee's Department store, described below
This full-page ad for Bresee's Department Store, from the front of the book, is especially lovely. Below the beautifully lettered logo in red ink is a glimpse of the retail past:

  • Over a million dollars worth of quality merchandise with hundreds of Famous Brands for your shopping satisfaction
  • Whether your choice is a Coutresy (sic) Account, lay-a-way, Budget Agreement or Continuous Budget will find a convenient credit plan to fit your budget [...]
  • The only store in a city of 14,000 with escalators for your shopping pleasure
  • Courteous, well trained co-workers in every department to help you with suggestions and proper fit, color and choice of selections
Courteous co-workers, ready to help you buy some of the million dollars worth of stuff, just after you get off the gleaming escalators. Sounds like a dream!

The book contains a few "house" ads promoting itself, urging readers with quaintly amusing, capitalized directions such as:
Place Your Directory Where The Public May Use It And Increase Its Benefits. It Is Much Too Valuable A Property Not To Receive Maximum Use.
What was the Manning company that made this book? Based in Schenectady, they published similar directories for at least 65 other small cities in New York (but not for any of the largest cities).

Logo for directory publishers' association
In case you were wondering, there was a national association of directory publishers, of which Manning's was a member. More evidence that there's an association for everything. (There's even an association for associations.)


Michael Leddy said...

What a great item. I have a 1946 Adventures in Good Eating and was hoping I could scan and send a description of the Health Bar Restaurant, but it’ not in there.

Is there a union label anywhere on the book? (Did that label only appear on other kinds of printed matter?)

Cavewoman said...

Stumbled upon your post while trying to determine the meaning of an abbreviation in my local Manning's Directory. It is a lowercase do, listed directly after the indication of homeowner. Any clue?

Also thought you might be interested to know that Manning Directories were published for at least one Vermont City, Rutland. The Rutland City directory also covered the adjacent towns of West Rutland and Proctor.

The Manning's are such a fun wealth of information.