A History of A.P.A.s

A Brief History of Amateur Press Associations
by Edward Waterman

The word amateur has come by the thousand oddities of language to convey an idea of tepidity; whereas the word itself has the meaning of passion. Nor is this peculiarity confined to the mere form of the word; the actual characteristic of these nameless dilettanti is a genuine fire and reality. A man must love a thing very much if he practices it without any hope of fame or money, but even practice it without any hope of doing it well. Such a man must love the toils of the work more than any other man can love the rewards of it.

— G. K. Chesterton –

The Amateur Press, as it has come to be known, is a kind of all-encompassing name for the countless independent groups around the world and throughout history, working in non-professional forums for the general purpose of journalism, or rather, journalistic activity. The topics of such groups run the gamut from political ideology, to scientific discovery, and artistic exploration; but regardless of their subject matter, all share a common interest in writing, printing, or publishing. Essentially, each member of an amateur press association (a.p.a.) writes their own material, and distributes that material to their fellow members. Some groups have a central Editor who actually does the layout and printing of the amateur publication, and in other groups each member prints and produces their own publication for distribution to all the members. No matter its distribution mechanism, the group is an a.p.a. if it is self-published, unsupervised, and non-profit.

Although the amateur press can be considered to date back to the first appearance of print duplication methods, what we in the United States commonly call amateur journalism did not appear until the mid 1800s, when relatively inexpensive tabletop printing presses were developed. In order to make money in their spare time, teenagers were encouraged to set up their own small printing shops. Some of these small printers found time to publish their own papers, and eventually began exchanging journals with one another. Over time, these small intimate press groups developed into regional and then national organizations, providing an essential framework for amateur journalistic endeavors.

The first American amateur press to reach a national scope was the National Amateur Press Association (NAPA). The group was first founded on February 19th, 1876 by Evan Reed Riale and nine other members in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Though a local organization at first, the group had national aspirations which they eventually realized a few months later at a meeting held at the US Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia on July 4th. After a vote to dissolve the local group, the membership voted to re-create NAPA on a national scale and, after much work, the first national a.p.a. was founded.

In 1878, the Chicago conclave adopted NAPA’s first permanent constitution and bylaws, creating the Laureate awards encouraging literary efforts. Each year, the title of laureate was awarded to the best author of poems, essays, serials, and sketches — the judges being persons of recognized note in the professional field. NAPA can count among its past members, persons who went on to hold offices of state, respected positions in private enterprise, and persons of great artistic stature. NAPA continues to thrive to this date.

The “United” amateur press associations, considered the second oldest national a.p.a.(s), have a long and discordant history suffering from political in-fighting, proxy vote manipulation, and outright dissent. The first “United” amateur press association was named simply enough, the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA). The organization was founded in 1895 by a group of teenagers including seventeen-year-old Charles W. Heins and fourteen-year-old William H. Greenfield who, merely through convention, is considered the group’s founder and first president. Around 1900, political rivalry split the group into two factions, the New York club and the New Jersey club. The New York faction quickly faded from existence as a result of a crafty New Jersey double cross, but UAPA was not over its troubles yet.

Five years later in 1905, dissent regarding “illegal and unfair practices” splintered the group into three different factions, all claiming the same name and legal right to its 1895 heritage. By 1909, two of the factions had played themselves out and UAPA was once again firmly united under one banner, or so it would seem.

The third split occurred in 1912 when a dispute broke out regarding illegal proxy vote manipulation and ballot stuffing in UAPA’s presidential election. Two factions were created, the “Erford group” and the “Hoffman group,” both claiming to be the original UAPA and, oddly, both eventually changing their names to the United Amateur Press Association of America (UAPAA). Both groups continued to operate successfully, and both groups maintained continuity with their parent a.p.a. by separately retaining the name and numbering of UAPA’s original official organ, the United Amateur. Over the next fourteen years the “Hoffman group” (later known as the “Lovecraft Group” because writer H. P. Lovecraft became editor and his wife Sonia became president) gradually ceased to function, and in 1926 passed out of existence leaving once again a solitary UAPAA.

In 1935 great dissatisfaction arose regarding alleged arbitrary and illegal measures by those in office and a reform group was formed dramatically named, “The Crusaders.” Despairing and unable to effect reform within the organization, and rather than cause another split in UAPAA, “The Crusaders” opted to resign from UAPAA and form a new organization known as the American Amateur Press Association in 1936 (AAPA is discussed later).

Merely two years later, in 1938, UAPAA split for the fourth time into two fighting factions. The rebel group lasted three years before dying out, and UAPAA reigned in uncommon harmony until 1942 when new turmoil broke out from a completely different source.

Charlie Heins, now age 65, founded a new a.p.a. named, the United Alumni Association, in the hopes of bringing former members of the United back into activity. Unexpectedly, the ashes of past splits now stirred into new life and the group was taken over by a fresh United movement claiming to be “the original United Press Association” and changing its name appropriately to the United Amateur Press Association (dropping the “of America” tag to make its acronym UAPA). This new UAPA continued to survive until 1967 when both the UAPA and UAPAA voted to merge, bringing “twins together again.” The newly consolidated group then changed its name to the United Amateur Press (UAP).

However, no sooner had the merged group officially changed its name when a few members of the former UAPA complained that they had lost “identity” by merging and starting again under UAP, so they split off from the group and resurrected the United Amateur Press Association of America (UAPAA).

This is the current state of affairs. Both groups (the UAP and UAPAA) claim the original founding date and heritage of their 1895 UAPA ancestor. Both groups maintain the same basic philosophy or emphasis on writing (rather than printing or publishing) inherited from their founders, and both groups have a heavy crossover of members.

The American Amateur Press Association (AAPA) was formed in 1936, when allegedly corrupt officers and internal strife in the UAPAA caused the group to splinter into factions. One of the most important innovations of this new group was to conduct all business by mail, leaving annual conventions to “seminars and good old camaraderie.” Although many thought there wasn’t room for another group, the AAPA quickly established itself as a significant force in amateur journalism. AAPA, along with UAP, UAPAA, and NAPA, is now one of the oldest national amateur press associations still operating.

In 1937, a new kind of apa appeared that diverged from the typical emphasis on general printing, typography, editing, and journalism; and focused its efforts on a certain specific area of interest — science fiction and fantasy literature. Donald A. Wollheim founded the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), which was the first national apa that consisted entirely of fans and admirers of speculative fiction. FAPA has remained for many decades an important device within “Fandom” for maintaining affinities and circulation of fiction by young writers, and is currently still the largest fan-based apa in existence. Many other fan-based apas followed, usually focusing on one specific author or another. One of the more enduring of these is the Robert E. Howard United Press Association.

The Robert E. Howard United Press Association (REHupa) was founded in 1972 by Tim Marion for discussion of the life and works of the classic American author, Robert E. Howard. The group is also a forum for its members to print and publish fantasy fiction, poetry, artwork, and nonfiction. REHupa’s membership is not limited to the United States, and has welcomed members from Britain, Australia, Canada, and other nations around the world. REHupa and many groups like it are proud descendants of a great and historic tradition, that of the Amateur Press.

Notes on “A Brief History of Amateur Press Associations”:

Facts on the history of amateur press associations are very difficult to find. To my knowledge only one book was ever written on the subject, and this is a very rare book, titled The History of Amateur Journalism by Truman Spencer. The book takes the history of amateur journalism up to 1940. Mr. Spencer died in 1944. The book was then published by a member of the National Amateur Press Association, Sheldon Wesson, while he was posted in Japan in 1957. The print run was limited to 500 copies, and the book was copyrighted by The Fossils, Inc., which is an organization consisting of ex-amateur journalists for the purpose of preserving the history of the amateur press. The photos I presented in this article were taken from The History of Amateur Journalism.

I was lucky enough to have copies of the relevant portions of The History of Amateur Journalism photocopied for me by Jacob Warner who is a current member of the National Amateur Press Association. Needless to say, I am in his debt. However, much of my information on the history of apas came from a small book titled, The First Hundred Years… by Harold Segal, which was published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of NAPA. This book took most of its historical information from Spencer’s The History of Amateur Journalism. It is with much gratitude I thank Mr. Segal for sending me a copy of The First Hundred Years…