Some time ago I said “It’s not possible to be interested in Albany history and not to owe a debt of gratitude to Joel Munsell.” He was a fine printer and one of the most important chroniclers of Albany’s early history. Not a native Albanian, Munsell was born in 1808 in Northfield, Massachusetts. At 18, he moved to Troy, as one did in those days, and then came to Albany, working for book dealer John Denio and, while still a clerk, starting up a semi-weekly paper, The Minerva. Then he went to work as a compositor, and started his own printing business in 1834. He bought out Thomas Wait’s print shop in 1836 and became established at 58 State Street, later moving up to No. 82.
He quickly ventured into historical printing, and his interest in the printing arts was also shown in his publication of The Typographical Miscellany and A Chronology of Papermaking. Between 1828 and 1870, he printed more than 2300 works. But, possibly most importantly for fans of Albany history, he wrote the ten-volume Annals of Albany, which began as the Albany Annual Register in 1849. It ranges from the earliest days of Albany, the voyage of Henry Hudson, to the minutiae of individual births and deaths and shipping news of the 1850s. It’s hard to read it often enough.
Munsell had ten children from two wives. He was active in the Albany Institute, and appears to have kept shop up to his death on June 15, 1880.
A nice little tribute to Munsell, written in 1974 by Henry S. Bannister, is here.