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American Recording Pioneers


Uncle Josh’s Punkin Centre Stories:
Cal Stewart as Author, Publisher, and Entrepreneur

By Allan Sutton


Uncle Josh's Punkin Centre Stories

Cal Stewart's recording career has been widely discussed over the years. However, his careers as author, publisher, and entrerpreneur have received much less attention.

In 1901 Stewart copyrighted the texts of his earliest "Punkin Centre" stories, many of which were selling well on discs and cylinders. By 1903 he had combined these tales with some original poetry (which he did not record) and released the compilation in an illustrated, self-published book, Uncle Josh Weathersby's "Punkin Centre" Stories.

The relatively rare edition shown here is the "Talking Machine Edition," which apparently was sold (or possibly given away as a premium) by phonograph dealers. It is among the earliest printings, a self-published edition credited on the spine to The Punkin Centre Co., Chicago. No publisher's name appears on the title page, but a 1903 copyright to W. L. Eckhardt and Calvin E. Stewart is cited, with printing credited to the Regan Printing Company of Chicago.

Scattered among the familiar Uncle Josh stories are rare autobiographical glimpses, not meant to be taken too seriously ("The author was born in Virginia, on a little patch of land so poor, we had to fertilize it to make brick"), and a selection of Stewart's unrecorded poetry. He drew on his early days working the Western railroads in "Yosemite Jim, or, A Tale of the Great White Death":

Did you ever hear tell of the Great White Death,
That creeps down the mountain side,
Leavin' behind it a ghastly track
Whar those who have met it died?
Well, pard, as true as I'm a-livin',
No man wants to see it twice...
     

Stewart's tongue-in-cheek autobiography, from Uncle Josh Weathersby's "Punkin Centre" Stories
(Author's collection)
       

Frontpiece from Uncle Josh Weathersby's "Punkin Centre" Stories
(Author's collection)

Stewart's self-published editions were soon selling well enough that commercial publisher began to take notice, and in 1905 the Chicago firm of Thomas & Thompson acquired publication rights to Uncle Josh Weathersby's "Punkin Centre" Stories. The company reused the original Regan printing plates and initially added some advertising at the back for its popular Peck's Bad Boy series.

In the same year, the Chicago firm of Stanton & Van Vliet published the same material as Uncle Josh's Punkin Center Stories The Talking Machine Stories (note that "Weathersby" was deleted from the title, and the spelling of "Centre" changed to "Center"). Bound in rather drab-looking tan cloth with brown lettering, this is one of the most commonly seen editions.

Thomas & Thompson kept Uncle Josh Weathersby's Punkin Centre Stories in print for many years. One very late edition includes a listing of Stewart's Victor records released as late as 1919. Later printings are fairly common, and often were not as well produced as the earlier editions. Many have less attractive covers with black type (rather than the embossed silver and orange used on early editions) on lighter blue-green cloth.

Various other editions appeared from time to time, all printed from the Regan plates and maintaining the identical pagination. Regan even issued its own version in 1908, with a blue cover. A replica edition, printed in the 1980s, contains additional material not found in the original and is easily distinguished from the authentic printings.
  


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