Isaac Collins (printer)

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Isaac Collins
Isaac Collins 1806.jpg
Engraving portrait of Collins at 60 years of age by John Wesley Jarvis, 1806[1]
BornFebruary 16, 1746
DiedMarch 21, 1817(1817-03-21) (aged 71)
Occupationprinter, publisher
Parent(s)Charles Collins and Sarah Hammond
Collins signature.jpg

Isaac Collins (February 16, 1746 – March 21, 1817) was a printer, publisher, bookseller and merchant of the early American period. He published the New Jersey Gazette and New Jersey Almanac. He was associated with several colonial newspapers and history works. He is noted for his 1791 bible, the leading family bible published in the United States. He was active in the American Revolution and printed the continental currency for Congress.

Collins was associated with several colonial merchants, printers, and publishers, some who were notable in their own right like William Rind, James Parker, William Goddard, and Robert Aitken. Collins was a firm believer in the freedom of the press and had journalist's viewpoints like those of Benjamin Franklin. He would not reveal his source of a story unless that person gave permission.

Early life[edit]

Collins was born near Centerville, Delaware, on February 16, 1746.[2][3][4] He was the descendant of English immigrants that died early in their lives.[5] His father was Charles Collins, a wine cooper from Bristol, England,[3] who was an orphan and had immigrated to America in 1734 at the age of nineteen.[2] When Collins's father immigrated to American he debarked at New Castle, Delaware, an area with a large population of Quakers.[2] Collins' father became a farmer in that area (Brandywine Hundred) near the Pennsylvania border and married Sarah Hammond, an English immigrant from Chester County, Pennsylvania.[5][6] Collins had a sister (Elizabeth) who never married and was his only sibling.[6] They were close throughout their lives.[6]

Collins 1770 work contract becoming King George's printer for New Jersey province.
Collins first residence in Burlington, N.J.
Collins print shop in Burlington, N. J.

Collins had his primary schooling at the Center Meeting House in Centerville and at the Friends' school in Wilmington, Delaware. His upbringing was among the local Quakers, who had a type of religion called "Inner Light".[7] Collins and his sister listened to religious works of authors like Robert Barclay, William Penn, and Isaac Pennington - if they followed the traditions of the local Quakers.[6] Collins's father had married again after Collins's birth mother had died.[8] Shortly after, his father died and his stepmother remarried prior to 1760 and moved to another neighborhood.[8] At this time Collins was put under the guardianship of his mother's brother, John Hammond, who was living in Wilmington.[8] He lost contact with his stepmother after that.[9]

Collins became indentured under the printer James Adams of Franklin and Hall (Benjamin Franklin's old Philadelphia printing firm, run by his former foreman David Hall) in 1761 to work as a journeyman in the printer trade for five years.[4][10] Since Adams was his master he furnished Collins with not only printing skills (i.e. inking, closing the press) but was also obligated to furnish him in basic schooling in such subjects as reading, writing and arithmetic.[11][12] Collins pledged for the printer training that he would stay away from playing cards, dice, and taverns of any type.[13] Adams in early 1766 let go of Collins when he was twenty years old due to an economic slowdown, completing only four years of his apprenticeship.[14]

Collins completed his last year of the five year indenture with William Rind, a printer of the Virginia Gazette in Colonial Williamsburg.[3][14] He was twenty-one years old in 1767 when he finished his apprenticeship.[4][15] Collins soon after his birthday in 1767 moved to Philadelphia, to first get work as a journeyman printer with William Goddard and then with several other leading colonial printers.[3][16] He received 25 per cent more pay than other journeymen in the print shops he worked at because of his attention to details and his diligence.[4][17]

The Minutes of the Quaker's Philadelphia Yearly Meeting for 1770 at their Arch Street Friends Meeting House show that Collins was accepted officially as a member on January 26.[18] In this year he formed a business partnership with Philadelphia printer Joseph Crukshank, a member of the Quaker society. The Crukshank & Collins firm lasted from January until August. It started the business at Crukshank's existing print shop on Second Street. After a short while they moved to larger quarters on Third Street opposite the Work-House. The young journeymen issued seven imprints and these were the first to bear Collins's name. They published The American Traveler: Containing Observations on the Present State, Culture and Commerce of the British Colonies in America and An Account of the Convincement, Exercises, Services and Travels of that Ancient Servant of the Lord Richard Davis and Material Towards a History of the American Baptists, the first historical work written and printed in Pennsylvania. Their principal publication was Mary Collyer's translation of The Death of Abel by Swiss poet Solomon Gessner.[19]

Mid life[edit]

Collins decided to do some exploratory trips to Burlington, New Jersey, in the later part of 1770 to check out the feasibility of opening up a print shop there.[20] He decided to move there and became a resident printer, however kept his citizenship ties to Philadelphia.[21] Collins began a courtship relationship with Rachel Budd of Philadelphia in the early part of 1771.[22] As was the Quaker traditions they declared their intentions to get married at monthly meetings, which was done in March and April 1771, and they were formally married May 8, 1771.[4][23] They had fourteen children: Rebecca, Charles, Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, Thomas, Susannah, William, Benjamin, Anna, Isaac, Stacy, Mary, and Joseph.[24] The lived in Burlington for some seven years in an old-fashion hipped-roof house that was at the corner of High Street and Union Street.[25] The house in 1893 still showed in large letters on its north side the date it was built.[26]

Collins succeeded James Parker as New Jersey's official government printer to King George III.[3][22][27] In Burlington he started publishing the New Jersey Almanac in 1771 and printed it for twenty-six years continually each year thereafter.[3][4][22] This almanac had a large circulation and sometimes almost rivaled Poor Richard's Alamac in its demand. It was compiled by Timothy Prueman Philom and contained essays on the Seasons, Agriculture, the Education of Youth, the Pleasures and Advantages of Society, and With the Fair Sex. It also had articles on Drunkenness, Gambling, Integrity, Solitude, Marriage, and Advice to the Ladies. The title changed its name about 1786, then referred to as To the New Jersey Almanac.[4]

Collins was active in the American Revolution and printed the continental currency for Congress.[4][28] He printed at least 50 different colonial money notes of pounds, shillings and pence from 1771 - 1789.[29] He starting publishing the weekly New Jersey Gazette in 1777 being the state's first regular newspaper.[30] [31][32] Collins used packetmaker agents to distribute and sell his newspaper. Some merchants that sold the Gazette were Robert Aitken, Moses Bartram, and Joseph Crukshank.[33] Collins was primarily a merchant-shopkeeper during this time selling large quantities of quills, stationery, and general goods to townspeople and the army and his second job was as a printer.[34]

Collins moved his printing equipment and family to Trenton, New Jersey in 1778 and continued to publish the New Jersey Gazette until 1786.[35] Trenton was a town strategically located between New York City and Philadelphia which he thought would be a better location for a newspaper.[36] His print shop was located at the southeast corner of State Street and Broad Street, the center of town that was a popular meeting place for pioneer settlers.[37] It became known as Quaker Tavern because many Quakers made his shop and home a temporary headquarters until they settled permanently. His career flourished both in publishing and civic affairs.[38]

Collins was a firm believer in the freedom of the press and had even refused to reveal his source of a pseudonymous article even though the legislative council demanded it.[39] He stood on his grounds as a faithful guardian of the liberty of the press and would not reveal his source unless the source gave him permission.[39] He wrote many persuasive articles on the principle of freedom of the press, including one of particular interest in March 1781 to his friend Governor William Livingston.[39] Collins had a journalist's viewpoint similar to Benjamin Franklin's in that a publisher had a public responsibility as a "Guardian of his Country's Reputation, and refused to insert such Writings as may hurt it."[40]

Later life[edit]

Collins and his wife Rachel moved their family and business to New York City in 1796.[39][41] Their address in the city was on Pearl Street, the location of newspaper publishers John Lang, Archibald McLean, and John Tiebout.[42] Others associated with the printing industry on Pearl Street that Collins patronized were William Durell (paper merchant), John Roberts (engraver), John Bowen (ink-maker), and Peter Meiser (bookbinder).[43] Collins lived in New York City for twelve years.[22] Rachel, his first wife, died in 1805 of yellow fever.[44] Collins moved back to Burlington in 1808.[45] His second marriage was in 1809 to Deborah Smith,[46] the widow of Benjamin Smith.[22]

The printing firm that Collins started on Pearl Street in New York City was continued by his sons and grandsons.[39] It was claimed for years after Collins left to be the oldest printing firm in New York City.[39] Collins died at the age of 71 in Burlington, New Jersey, on March 21, 1817.[39][47]

Isaac Collins's 1791 bible, the first American "family bible" published
The History of the Revolution of South Carolina Collins printed 1785
Journal of Job Scott (1797)

Family bible[edit]

It was required in the early part of the 18th century in many of the American colonies that every family have a bible.[3] Most families went by the colony law requirements until the beginning of the American Revolutionary War.[3] Up until this time bibles came from Europe but could no longer be supplied because of hazards of the war.[3] The Continental Congress obtained bids from Collins for producing copies of the KJV edition of the Bible for the colony families.[3][46] He published 5000 copies of a quarto edition family bible consisting of 925 pages in 1791.[4][22][39] Collins was paid about four Spanish dollars per bible for the printing.[39]

Collins's bible used higher quality printing types and better techniques than conventional printing of the time period.[22] His bible was proofread up to eleven times before being published.[22] Bible scholars note that it was one of the most textual accurate bibles ever printed.[32][48] It was the first American family bible published.[49][50][51] It was the largest publishing job every done in America up to that point.[22] Three thousand bibles were pre-sold with a 25% deposit even before the print job was started.[52] It was different than the customary editions of the Christian Bible in that the dedication to King James was omitted and instead it had an address "To the Reader" by Reverend John Witherspoon. Some of the printed copies had Jean-Frédéric Osterwald's The Arguments of the Books and Chapters of the Old and New Testament With Practical Observations with a separate title page altogether.[4]


Some of the works Collins printed and published are:

Newspapers and Almanacs[edit]

  • New Jersey Gazette (Burlington), Dec. 5, 1777-Feb. 25, 1778[53]
  • New Jersey Gazette (Trenton), March 4, 1778-Nov. 27, 1786[53]
  • Burlington Almanac (Burlington), 1770-1777[53]
  • New Jersey Almanac (Trenton), 1778-1795[53]

Government, other than money notes[edit]

  • An Act to prevent persons, holding shares of propriety, from cutting timber on the unlocated lands in New Jersey[22]
  • Revived Laws of New Jersey (1000 copies of 500 pages each)[22]
  • Minutes of the Convention of the State of New-Jersey[22]
  • Votes and proceedings of various General Assemblies[46]
  • Journal of the Proceedings of the Legislative Council[22]
  • Acts of the General Assemble of New Jersey[22]
  • Constitution of New-Jersey[22]

Religious publications[edit]

  • Journal of the Life, Travels and Gospel Labours of that Faithful Servant and Minister of Christ, Job Scott[22]
  • Christian Hymns, Poems, and Spiritual Songs, Sacred to the Praise of God our Savious[22]
  • History of the Rise, Increase and Progress of the Christian People called Quakers[22]
  • The Holy Bible (KJV), also known as Collins 1791 "Family Bible"[22]
  • The Power of Religion on the Mind[22]
  • The Saint's Everlasting Rest[22]
  • Methodism Displayed[22]
  • New Testament 1789[22]

History volumes[edit]

Pamphlets and broadsides[edit]

  • An Old Looking-Glass for the Laity and Clergy of all Denominations, Who either Give or Receive money under the pretence of the Gospel... Considerations Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings Out of the Church of Christ[53]
  • A Sonata, sung by a number of young girls ... as General Washington passed under the triumphal arch raised on the bridge at Trenton, April 21, 1789[53]
  • Proclamation from Governor Livingston recommending to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer[53]
  • A Journal of two visits made to some Nations of Indians on the West Side of the River Ohio, in the years 1772 and 1773[53]
  • An Essay on Slavery, Proving from Scripture Its Inconsistency with Humanity and Religion [53]
  • Brief Considerations on Slavery, and the Expediency of Its Abolition [53]
  • A Compendium of Surveying; or the Surveyor's Pocket Companion [53]


  • The Mighty Destroyer Displayed, in some account of the dreadful havock made by the mistaken use as well as abuse of distilled spirituous liquors [53]
  • The English Reader; or, Pieces in Prose and Poetry, Selected from the Best Writers [53]
  • An Account of the Convincement, Exercises, Services and Travels of Richard Davis [53]
  • A Journal, or Historical Account, of the Life, Travels, Sufferings of George Fox [53]
  • Directions for the Breeding and Management of Silk-Worms [53]
  • Philosophic Solitude: or, the Choice of a Rural Life [53]
  • The Instructor: or, Young Man's Companion [53]
  • The New England Primer, Improved [53]
  • A new guide to the English Tongue [53]
  • The Spirit of Masonry [53]

See also[edit]

Other colonial printers -


  1. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 175 Collins sat for the artist John Wesley Jarvis at his Nassau Street studio on several occasions in 1806.
  2. ^ a b c Hixson 1968, p. 3.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j White 1926, p. 190.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Collins Family". The Times. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. May 1, 1892 – via open access.
  5. ^ a b Thomas 1874, p. 316.
  6. ^ a b c d Hixson 1968, p. 4.
  7. ^ James 2013, p. 3.
  8. ^ a b c Hixson 1968, p. 5.
  9. ^ Collins 1893, p. 7.
  10. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 10.
  11. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 7.
  12. ^ Angoff 1931, p. 358-359.
  13. ^ Marble 1935, p. 10.
  14. ^ a b Hixson 1968, p. 11.
  15. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 14.
  16. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 16.
  17. ^ Collins 1893, p. 9.
  18. ^ "Minutes". Department of Records: 367, 371. 1770.
  19. ^ Hildeburn 2011, pp. 88–122.
  20. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 23.
  21. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 24.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad Blake 1859, p. 302.
  23. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 39.
  24. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 159, 160.
  25. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 40.
  26. ^ Collins 1893, p. 14.
  27. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 34.
  28. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 51.
  29. ^ "Isaac Collins". Mantis. American Numismatic Society. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  30. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 69.
  31. ^ Thomas 1874, p. 364.
  32. ^ a b Suarez & Woudhuysen 2010, p. 623.
  33. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 29.
  34. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 124–126.
  35. ^ Wroth 1964, p. 34.
  36. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 75.
  37. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 115.
  38. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 116.
  39. ^ a b c d e f g h i White 1926, p. 191.
  40. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 109.
  41. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 155.
  42. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 160.
  43. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 163.
  44. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 169.
  45. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 178.
  46. ^ a b c Lurie 2004, p. 162.
  47. ^ Thomas 1874, p. 317.
  48. ^ Hixson 1968, p. 152.
  49. ^ New England Historic Genealogical Society 1892, p. 274.
  50. ^ Drake 1879, p. 208.
  51. ^ "History of the Bible Timeline". A.D. 1791 - The Isaac Collins Bible, the first family Bible (KJV), is printed in America. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  52. ^ "Christian Heritage Museum". Christian Heritage. 2013. Retrieved January 19, 2014.
  53. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Hixson 1968, p. 190–204.


  • Hixson, Richard F. (1968). Isaac Collins. Rutgers University Press.
  • Wroth, Lawrence C. (1964). The Colonial Printer. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0486282945.

External links[edit]