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January 19, 2013

Phinneys of Cooperstown used unique marketing methods

Baseball Hall of Famer “Wee” Willie Keeler once advised hitters to “Keep your eye clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” It’s a good strategy for the game, and not a bad one for competition in business, either. The Phinney family of Cooperstown would likely agree, when it came to its book publishing business in the 18th and 19th centuries. 

The Phinneys were innovators, bringing the written word to places others had not, or perhaps hadn’t yet thought about. Elihu Phinney was a publisher in Canaan, Columbia County, in the early 1790s. Phinney was invited to Cooperstown by Judge William Cooper, the wealthy land developer who had established the village. Phinney accepted, and in addition to his law practice, opened a publishing business, starting Otsego County’s first newspaper, The Otsego Herald, in 1795. The area was starting to grow, and its residents were probably happy to be able to read about what was going on in the world outside the village.

In the first edition, Phinney wrote that he, “in the winter of 1793, penetrated a wilderness, and broke a track, through a deep snow, with six teams, in the ‘depth’ of winter, and was received with a cordiality, bordering on homage.”

Phinney’s sons, Henry and Elihu became involved in the publishing business and took it over upon their father’s death in 1813. 

Citing two college theses within the resources of the New York State Historical Association Research Library in Cooperstown, one finds that Henry and Elihu were very enterprising brothers.

In “The Phinneys of Cooperstown,” Kathryn Klim Sturrock writes that, at one time, the two brothers employed 40 people, used 3,000 reams of paper a year and kept five presses in almost constant use. Their chief publications were Bibles, schoolbooks, children’s books and a favorite of many, the annual Phinney’s “Calendar and Western Almanack.”

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