Last week, I was lucky enough to find a “treasure” in a Perkasie antique store, a rare copy of an obscure 1877 small-format four-page newspaper that predates the Perkasie Central News and the Sellersville Herald.
The Mercer Museum has eight copies of “The Advertiser,” which was printed on a portable printing press by a teenager in Sellersville. My copy is the July 4, 1877 edition, which is also in the Mercer Museum. What makes “The Advertiser” unusual is that it was never listed in a public directory of newspapers, and its printer was Charles M. Berkemeyer, who would become known regionally for his work with postcards and religious materials.
In June 1936, Sellersville had a 50th anniversary celebration for Berkemeyer’s printing company, and Berkemeyer recalled how he started as a printer in 1875 with a portable Excelsior table-top printing press in a small venture with his father, the Rev. Ferdinand Berkemeyer. Charles was 15 years old at the time.
Perkasie News Herald editor John Sprenkel knew the printer well, and he recalled Berkemeyer’s career when Berkemeyer died in 1946.
“A son of a Lutheran pastor, he early in adolescent years made the decision that set the pattern for his life. The pastor-father, with the son, together discussed the lifework of the son and decided upon the printing trade,” Sprenkel said. “The son found himself in a print shop which was set up and equipped by the father in his own home. From that day, the son never left the print shop until several months ago when failing health made his retirement imperative.”
Berkemeyer saw his printing as a way to support charitable causes. His father, Rev. Berkemeyer, helped to start Lutheran churches in Hilltown, South Perkasie, and Sellersville. The father and son combined to turn out “the printed work of his community, a goodly portion of which consisted of tracts and letters for his father, who pioneered in the promotion and development of the Lutheran church in Bucks, Montgomery and Lehigh counties,” Sprenkel noted.
In addition to his religious work, Berkemeyer played a significant role in starting Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, where he was a long-time board member, and he served on Sellersville Borough council.
The July 4, 1877 edition of “The Advertiser” was like its namesake, full of nicely typeset local ads. In addition to ads for the local “segar makers” in Sellersville, Berkemeyer ran typeset ads for the Bridgetown Hotel, owned by Stephen Young, and a cow auction. (Today, the South Perkasie Hotel, also known as The Perk, is in the same location.) The new Moyer Lumber and Lime Yard in Perkasie, local painter F.B. Hollenbach and the W.B. Savacool Mill in Bridgetown paid for advertisements. “The Advertiser” also had several short news items, including a death notice for Henry Nase of Sellersville and news that teacher examinations were held in Perkasie Village.
“The Advertiser” was also published under the name “F. Berkemeyer, Publisher” for Berkemeyer’s Job Printing since young Charles was a minor. A yearly subscription was 10 cents and ads cost 50 cents per week. It was likely printed inside the family home on North Main Street. Later, Berkemeyer added an outbuilding as his print shop, and he used a large dog to power his tread-powered press until electric motors were available.
Today, Charles M. Berkemeyer is most remembered for his series of postcards featuring the work of Daniel Ziegler, the photographer based in Souderton. Hundreds of the Berkemeyer-Zielger postcards remain in the possession of collectors and museums today, and they are the primary visual record of the late Victorian era in region near the Reading Railroad, including Lansdale, Hilltown, Perkasie, Sellersville, and Souderton.
But in his time, Charles M. Berkemeyer was known from Philadelphia to Allentown as a man devoted to his community.