Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press
A Little about the History. . .
by Peter E. Blau
Scuttlebutt from the Spermaceti Press has been published monthly ink-on-paper, with occasional illustrations and enclosures, for forty years and more. Much of the gossip is quite trivial, but most of it is Sherlockian or Doylean. And the subscription price will increase whenever postage rates increase.
The newsletter started in 1971 as sheets of paper, kept by my typewriter, so that I could write paragraphs of minor news for my friend John Bennett Shaw. Eventually others found out about what I called "information sheets" and asked for photocopies, and the number of copies required soon reached the point where I started charging for them to recover out-of-pocket costs. When I acquired my first computer in 1985, things became much easier and the format more consistent. Philip A. Shreffler, editor of The Baker Street Journal in 1987, suggested that readers of the BSJ might welcome the opportunity to read all that gossip, trivial and otherwise, and I finally named the newsletter, starting with the January 1988 issue.
The Spermaceti Press is the imaginary establishment from which my seasonal souvenirs for the Sherlockian birthday festivities in New York in January have been published for many years, named in honor of a real (and the only known remaining) spermaceti press, preserved at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, where it once was used not to publish anything for whalers, but rather to process whale oil. And the name of the press seemed appropriate, considering my Investiture in The Baker Street Irregulars ("Black Peter") and the fact that when I named my press I was living on Holmes Road in Pittsfield, Mass., just up the road from Arrowhead, the home in which Herman Melville lived when he wrote Moby Dick.
Scuttlebutt is an appropriate pun, since it means gossip, and comes from the barrel (butt) of water used to provide drinking water for the crew of whalers and other ships. Gossip was as common around the scuttlebutt then as it is today around office water-coolers. I must confess that if I had realized how long it took to explain the name of the newsletter, I might have named it simply Gossip, but what's done is done. And thanks to Willis G. Frick for providing web-space for an archive of back issues of the electronic version back to 1985. I'm not sure why anyone is interested in old gossip, but I've received requests, and bits and bytes make it easy to provide at least some ancient history.