The Vault

Carriers’ Addresses: A New Year’s Tradition Gone By

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For almost two hundred years, the delivery of a carrier’s address was a familiar feature of New Year’s Day in the United States. These “addresses” were greetings that newspaper delivery boys handed their customers on the first of the year; in return, subscribers would give the deliverers a New Year’s tip.

The “carrier’s address” was usually printed on a single sheet, and presented in verse format. The poems were unsigned—historians speculate that they may have been written by printers or local poets. Often, the sheet was prettied up with flourishes—illustrations or graphic elements meant to show off the printer’s acumen. In a departure from the one-sheet norm, the address below, gifted to readers of an unknown newspaper and featuring a bluebird in snow, was printed as a booklet.

Sometimes addresses incorporated commentary about the news, acting as a year-end roundup of notable happenings. The address to readers of the Newport (Rhode Island) Daily News for January 1, 1861 expressed optimism about the future, while acknowledging that its readers might not be feeling so sanguine about the country’s political situation: “’A happy New Year’! That’s a good one, forsooth!/Pray, where has been living this innocent youth?/Or of rose-colored spectacles has he a pair/That lends a warm glow to this leaden-grey air?”

Whether the year had been a good one or full of trouble, the addresses reminded the subscribers to give their carrier some extra compensation for his year’s labors. The address with the bluebird on its cover, for example, reminded subscribers that the carrier was hardy, asking “Who trudges through the rain and snow/When Jack Frost bites and North winds blow/And only hears the mandate, ‘Go?’” The answer: “My Carrier.” Such labor demanded a little bit of New Year’s cheer.

The Brown University Library holds many examples of carriers’ addresses in its digital collection.

Carrier's Address

Carrier’s Greetings, 1870. Brown University Library.

Carrier’s Greetings, 1870. Brown University Library.

The carrier’s New Year’s address to the patrons of the Newport Daily News. January 1st, 1861. Brown University Library.