Material History of American Religion Project

Advertising give-away

Letter opener from the American Baptist Publishing Society

This letter opener was a promotional give-away from the American Baptist Publication Society, probably in the early years of the twentieth century. It is about eight and a half inches long, made of brass and appears to have originally been nickel-plated. The text on the handle reads "Compliments of the American Baptist Publication Society, Books of All Publishers." The letter opener belonged to Henry Crete Gleiss (1870-1939), pastor of German Baptist churches in Texas, Pittsburgh, and Detroit.

The American Baptist Publication Society was founded in 1825 by a group of Baptist clergymen to produce tracts presenting the Baptist perspective. (They saw the American Tract Society, founded in 1814, as dominated by New England Congregationalists.) In 1840 the Society, based in Philadelphia, began issuing Sunday school material, and began producing the weekly Baptist Record. By 1850 the Society was publishing books "from a denominational perspective." After the division between Northern and Southern Baptists in 1845, the Society remained affiliated with the Northern Baptist (now American Baptist) churches, while serving both.

Like other church publishing houses, the Society serves mainly its own denomination. Officers of the Society are elected by delegates to the convention of the American Baptist Churches, and they are responsible to the clergy and churches of the denomination. Yet, as this letter opener illustrates, the Society felt the need to publicize itself, to remind clergy and lay members of its services. Like other church organizations, the Society became so much a part of the American consumer economy that it adopted that economy's marketing strategies.

Information on the Society comes from Daniel Gurden Stevens, The First Hundred Years of the American Baptist Publication Society (Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1924). The letter opener belongs to Daniel Sack, Gleiss's great-grandson and associate director of the Project.

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