[The] Gazette-Extr[a].

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Publication History:

Place of Publication: Extant issue states: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Frequency:  Unknown

Volume and Issue Data: Extant issue dated April 11, 1846

Size and Format: 15 x 11 in. (40 x 25 cm.), one sheet, two pages

Editor/Publisher:  Attributed to Herman Melville (see notes below)

Title Changes and Continuation: Unknown

[The] Gazette-Extr[a], PA, 1846, front page

General Description and Notes:

According to one scholar who has analyzed the paper, it is “an April 1846 satirical newspaper, The PHILADal GAZETTE – EXTR, with seven pen and ink drawings accompanying a 437 word handwritten commentary on U.S. and world news.”

[The] Gazette-Extr[a], PA, 1846, back page

The Gazette-Extra was introduced to the Handwritten Newspaper Project by Professor Roger Stritmatter of Coppin State University, Baltimore, MD, USA. He described how he came upon the manuscript and pursued its authorship:

“. . . I purchased [the document] from a New Jersey antique dealer in 2009 . . . . Since the acquisition I have had four published articles, three by experts from the University of Buffalo’s Cedar-Fox Center for Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition, who are state-of-the-art experts in forensic handwriting, which identify the writer (and therefore the artist) as Herman Melville. . . . I thought I would send it along to you, with appreciation for your website and my permission to publish the images as part of your archive, should you be so inclined” (Roger Stritmatter, PhD, personal email correspondence to the HNP Editor, dated Feb. 6, 2022).

Sargur N. Srihari, with the Cedar-Fox Center for Excellence for Document Analysis and Recognition, presented “Determining Writership of Historical Manuscripts using Computational Methods” at workshop on Automatic Pattern Recognition and Historical Handwriting Analysis in Erlangen, Germany in June 2013. In his presentation, citing Stritmatter’s work, he writes:

“A case for determining authorship of a historical manuscript is the Hydrachos manuscript (H.)1 . It is an April 1846 satirical newspaper, The PHILADal GAZETTE – EXTR, with seven pen and ink drawings accompanying a 437 word handwritten commentary on U.S. and world news. “Hydrachos” is the document’s misspelling of the name of a notorious paleontological curiosity of the 1840s, the Hydrarchos Sillimani, also called Basilosaurus and eventually renamed Zeuglodon cetoides. As summarized in the words of a contemporary novelist it was the “skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842, on the plantation of Judge Creagh, in Alabama.”[10]. The Alabama doctors declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it the name of Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being taken across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species. In 1846 the remains of the Hydrarchos, having previously appeared in 1845 in New York at the Apollo Saloon, were on display at the Philadelphia Natural Museum housed in the Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street[13, 115] which is so conspicuously alluded to in the H. document’s opening lines. Measuring 40 x 25 cm, the document contains satirical news content, primarily from the United States, Great Britain, Italy, and China, on both the recto (Figure 1(b)) and verso sides (Figure 1(a)). Lexical, grammatical, thematic, visual, content, and situational analysis[17] all support the hypothesis that the manuscript’s author is the New England author Herman Melville whose description of the controversy surrounding the “extinct monster” unearthed in Alabama from Moby Dick (Chapter 104, “The Fossil Whale”). This synoptic report, drawing a more complete unpublished analysis by Stritmatter [17], summarizes some reasons for hypothesizing this attribution, surprising as it might seem to contemporary Melville scholars. Although Melville does not use the word Hydrachos, many other phrases and allusions in the manuscript can be traced to his published writings. A striking example is the document’s leading conceit of the sea monster capable of carrying mail between America and England. Melville’s fall 1847 satirical squib to Yankee Doodle, appearing in print eighteen months after the date on the Hydrachos manuscript, similarly views the sea monster not as an extinct pile of bones but as a living asset to the communications industry. The satire offers a reward of one thousand dollars to anyone able to ”procure a private interview with the Sea-serpent, of Nahant notoriety,” for the purpose of concluding a negotiation with the Postmaster General to license the beast ”for the transmission of European mails from Boston to Halifax” (Hayford 429). The satire also advertises for a ”smart jockey” to ”superintend” the shipment. The situation of Melville’s satire directly echoes the Hydrachos visual depiction of a sea monster mounted by a ”rider,” equipped like a horse jockey with a bridle and a riding hat, ferrying mail between Boston and Liverpool. Like so much else in Melville’s writing, the motif of the sea monster transporting international mail from the Eastern United States to Europe can be directly traced to Melville’s own circumstances. In April 1846 he was engaged in an intense transatlantic correspondence with his brother Gansevoort, the secretary to the American legation in London, who was concluding negotiations for the publication of Herman’s first book, Typee. The book was published in England by John Murray and in the United States by Wiley & Putnam in March, 1846; throughout March Gansevoort was sending Herman British newspapers containing Typee reviews. The H. document, which has been folded five times vertically and once horizontally, to form an envelope-sized packet, 9×12 cm, preserves traces of evidence that it was at one time sent through the mail as a part of such a correspondence. More specifically, the April 11 date is of particular interest given that Gansevoort sent to Herman by the March 18 ”Unicorn” a number of papers, ”principally Examiners & Critics contg notices of Herman’s Marquesas Islands” (Parker, ”London Journal,” 53). It is proposed that this is the shipment alluded to in the H. manuscripts statement that ”our file of foreign papers was delivered at the cluster office” – the latter perhaps referring to Alan Melville’s Wall Street law office in Manhattan, where international correspondence for the family was typically routed. Qualitative stylistic analysis supports the attribution. In the 437 word document, Stritmatter[17] was able to trace 59 words and phrases many of an apparently particularistic nature, found in the Melville canon . . . .”

According to an article published in the Baltimore Sun (2018), the handwritten paper’s stories “purport to relate news events that occurred in Boston, England, China and Italy. Stritmatter thinks that a piece of commentary datelined Cape May, N.J., is an inside-joke referring to a family event. ‘These satiric mock newspapers were very popular in the 19th century,’ Stritmatter said. ‘They originated aboard ships and were a way that people entertained themselves and each other.’”

Information Sources


Gregory R. Ball, Danjun Pu, Roger Stritmatter and Sargur N. Srihari, “Comparison of Historical Documents for Writership,” 2010.  

Gregory R. Ball, Sargur N. Srihari, and Roger Stritmatter, “Writer Verification of Historical Documents Among Cohort Writers,” 2010.   

Mary Carole McCauley, “Finding a white whale: Coppin State professor might have confirmed lost Herman Melville manuscript,” Baltimore Sun, Oct 17, 2018 (online).

Srihari, Sargur N. “Determining Writership of Historical Manuscripts Using Computational Methods,” presented at “Automatic Pattern Recognition and Historical Handwriting Analysis” workshop at Erlangen, Germany, June 14-15, 2013. 

Roger Stritmatter “Arrangement, Natural Variation, Legibility and Continuity as Discriminating Elements in Handwriting Analysis: A Study of Herman Melville’s April 11, 1846 Hydrarchos Satire,” Journal of Forensic Document Examination 27 (2017) 31-55 (https://doi.org/10.31974/jfde27-31-55)

Private collection of Professor Roger Stritmatter

The Agate (MI, 1846)

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Publication History:

Place of Publication:  Fort Wilkins, Michigan

Frequency:  NA

Volume and Issue Data:  1846

Size and Format:  NA

Editor/Publisher:  NA

Title Changes and Continuation:  Unknown

General Description and Notes:

The records from Fort Wilkins include The Agate.

Information Sources:

Bibliography:  None

Locations:  Bentley Historical Library, Manuscript Holdings, Fort Wilkins Records (1846), The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

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