I had part of a day to kill in Sudbury in mid-September, so I spent it in the Mines Library at the Ministry of Mines & Northern Development, looking up old issues of Canadian Mining Journal. That sounds incredibly narcissistic, but there was a purpose.
This being our 125th anniversary year, I wanted to know the actual first month of publication. I knew that the earliest issues of this magazine (which was called Canadian Mining Review until 1907) are non-existent, so I needed to work from clues.
The oldest issues in the Mines Library in Sudbury were published in 1890. I had some fun reading then-editor B.T.A. Bell’s passionate tirades against the charlatans getting rich at the expense of gullible investors. But two words in the masthead of the January 1904 edition caught my attention: “established 1882”.
Since I started here, we have proudly proclaimed that our magazine was established in 1879 making this the 125th anniversary. Alas it’s not true. We won’t reach that milestone for another three years.
The scam (I think ‘mistake’ would be a better word) has had a long run. The August 1929 issue was called the 50th anniversary issue, and a big deal was made of the 60th anniversary in 1939.
The problem arose from numbering inconsistencies. The issues from a year are grouped together into volumes. The earliest issue I have seen a copy of is May 1883; it is called vol. 1, no.7 and the June 1883 issue is vol.1, no.8. If we count back months, the first monthly issue probably was printed in November 1882. There was one volume for each year, except for the years 1905, 1906 and 1908, which each had two volumes per year. (Bell had died suddenly in 1904, and I imagine things were in disarray.) A new numbering system was attempted in 1908 but that didn’t stick. In 1909, they went back to vol.30 and carried on with one volume per year from then on. So it was that the volume numbers have outpaced the age of the magazine by three since 1909.
Other than making the lives of librarians Hell, the eccentric volume numbering system wouldn’t matter except for some sloppy research by R.C. Rowe, the longest-serving editor of the magazine (1927-51). In 1929 he obviously noticed that he was publishing vol.50, and probably felt that, with the economy teetering on oblivion, it was time to celebrate something. It was easy to perpetuate the myth after that.
What’s the big difference between being 122 or 125 years old today? Not much, but that’s not the point. More and more I realize how important my company’s established mining publications are to our readers; they tend to believe that what they read in the Canadian Mines Handbook, the Northern Miner and the Canadian Mining Journal is the straight, unbiased truth. And I can assure you that is so, to the best of our abilities.
I also want to point out the value of keeping the old collections of business and technical periodicals intact and available to the public for research. Material published in the last 10 or 15 years is readily available in electronic form, but not from before then. Thanks to the exceptional collection of the Ontario provincial government’s Mines Library, I was able to unearth the facts.