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Edmund March Blunt: The Port printer in the style of Benjamin Franklin

From my Newburyport Daily News column 2013

In October 2013, the Federal Reserve began circulating the new Ben Franklin note, fashioned to beat the craftiest counterfeiters. Over a decade of research went into the 3D security features, but not to worry — Ben’s face will live on as a constant reminder that, in our world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

While gracing the $100 note with his portrait is a fitting way to preserve Ben’s legacy, he would remind us that “money has never made man happy, nor will it; There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness.”

Instead, Ben firmly believed that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” In fact, his memoirs clearly outline his thirst for knowledge and uncharted terrain: “I was passionately fond of reading and very fond of voyages.”

Ben’s self-made success became a blueprint for many aspiring youths, and he was the patron saint for all printers. In fact, one Newburyport fellow emulated the Franklin style and possessed the same journalistic instincts that earned him a spot in the annals of history among the stalwart men who helped build our nation.

Edmund March Blunt, aka “The Skillet Thrower,” is described here by R L Jackson in Essex Institute Historical Collections:

“The story of a many-sided genius reveals not only one of the most eminent hydrographers and navigation authorities of his time but a successful journalist, newspaperman publisher and pioneer in advertising.”

The printing press Ben apprenticed on would host the shop of Blunt and his partner, Howard Robinson, known as “The Sign of the Bible and the Quadrant,” located “six doors below from Wolfe Tavern” in 1793. Blunt made an announcement regarding this acquisition at the NY Printers Festival: “I have commenced a newspaper in Newburyport on a press once owned by Franklin of which I paid 40 dollars for.”

Blunt and Robinson issued the Impartial Herald, and it was well received. A few months into the gig, Robinson ventured alone and printed the Morning Star, which Blunt rubbed out almost immediately. Blunt’s avant-garde style echoed Ben’s doctrine: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing;” and the Port adored and relished his “broadened cultural contact,” so much so that he ran out all the competition. His popular paper would eventually become The Newburyport Herald.

Blunt was an advertising “pioneer,” and many spectacular displays spurted from Ben’s old press. His hard work exhibited Franklin’s ideals: “Hide not your talents, they for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?” Blunt boldly spread full-page ads, creating an entirely new fashion in printing.

His shop also produced famous nautical texts, including The American Coast Pilot and Bowditch’s New American Practical Navigator. The Pilot enjoyed universal success (18 editions), and the Duke Alexis of Russia dubbed it the official textbook of naval officers. Offering meticulous details about every port along the U.S. coast, these sailing directions saved thousands from shipwreck. Thanks to such successes, Newburyport became the center of American nautical publications.

Blunt had a notorious squabble with James Akin, an engraver he hired. Apparently, Akin rubbed Blunt the wrong way, and he spurned payment. According to the legend, the banter between the two went down in the shop of Josiah Foster on State Street. Blunt hurled a heavy kettle pan at Akin, who managed to dodge the makeshift weapon; however, it busted through a window and walloped Capt. Nicholas Brown instead. Akin settled the score by sketching a caricature of Blunt in the heat of the crime on selected crockery and chamber vessels, aptly entitled “Infuriated Despondency.”

When they got word that Akin’s newest line was in town, several of Blunt’s friends attempted to buy up all the pieces, but a few survived and are displayed in museums. Rather than show his ire, Blunt should have heeded Ben’s wisdom: “Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame” because the incident sadly caused Blunt to move on to calmer seas in New York.

When the new Ben bill debuts, remember there is nothing fake about this updated currency, nor the wise man gracing it, nor those who carry on his legacy. A Frank[lin] tip is priceless: “Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of ..If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas and a penny saved is a penny earned.”

Read Blount--ly Put, A Nautical Treat from 1982 Custom House Maritime Museum Exhibit and Show managed by Christopher Snow PDF File

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