Small Town America
Reading, Pennsylvania is a somewhat larger “small town” than usual, but it has such an interesting history that I could not resist including it in these short articles on American towns.
Reading has fallen on hard times recently, and although the city has recovered from the unenviable situation of being the poorest small city in the nation (in 2010) about one third of the population still lives below the poverty line.
The colony of Pennsylvania was created when Charles II granted William Penn land of more than 45,000 square miles. Penn named it in honour of his father, Admiral Sir William Penn, and his two sons, Richard and Thomas, together with Conrad Weiser laid out the town, and named it after Reading in Berkshire, UK. The town was established in 1748, and to put that into context, this was three years after Bonnie Prince Charlie had tried for the British Throne. Reading, PA became the County seat of the new Berks County in 1752.
The area was settled by German immigrants, and the first Amish community in America was created in the Greater Reading area. The Pennsylvanian German dialect was still spoken in the area well into the 1950s.
Reading has suffered much as a result of changes since the 1940s, including the decline of heavy engineering, but is now slowly beginning to recover. Let us hope that recovery continues.
One happier coincidence between the English Reading and the Pennsylvanian city is an odd baking one. The company of Huntley and Palmer, the biscuit manufacturer, originated in Reading, England and, from the mid-19th century until the 1970s, Reading was known as “Biscuit Town”. In Pennsylvania, their Reading was known as “Pretzel City” because of the proliferation of large bakeries specialising in the delicacy.
Below are some further examples of Reading precancels, showing different type faces, spacings, and positionings of the overprint.