Great Headlines Speak For Themselves… Salk’s Vaccine!

May 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The best headlines need no commentary. Such is the case with the Journal American, April 12, 1955: “Salk’s Vaccine Works!”Vaccine for Polio Joseph Salk

Niles Register, a newspaper rich in history…

May 12, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

This post is taken almost entirely from the work by Bill Earle at www.nilesregister.com, whose database of the entire run of this notable newspaper provides a very inclusive perspective of life not only in America but the world for much of the first half of the 19th century. But this post offers insight  beyond the Niles’ Register. It provides a perspective of the broader scope of newspaper publishing from this significant era.

Star Spangled BannerThe national and international newsweekly Niles’ Register is well known today primarily to collectors & those and genealogists who have sampled its treasures.  But in the first half of the 19th century, the Register was as well known as the New York Times and Washington Post are known today.  From 1811 to 1849, it was the principal window through which many Americans looked out on their country and the world.  The scope of the work was immense, its circulation was large (the largest in the United States, by some accounts), and its influence was reflected in generous compliments from such readers of the publication as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.

The Register was founded by Hezekiah Niles in Baltimore in 1811.  A printer and journalist of Quaker background from the Wilmington-Brandywine-Philadelphia area, Niles had worked in Philadelphia and Wilmington before moving to Baltimore in 1805 as editor of the “Baltimore Evening Post”. When that paper was sold in 1811, he launched his “The Weekly Register“.  The editor had large ambitions:  he intended to be “an honest chronicler” who “registered” events not just for his contemporaries but for posterity as well.  Although politics would be covered extensively, the Register would eschew any partisan slant — “electioneering,” as the editor called it.  Furthermore, the paper would ignore local news in favor of national and international news.  The paper would cost $5 per year, a premium price in an era when a dollar might constitute a generous day’s wages.

Niles had secured some subscribers before his first issue appeared on September 7, 1811, but those initial subscribers would be able to cancel after 13 weeks if the work did not meet their expectations.  After six months, however, Niles was able to boast that few initial subscribers had withdrawn.  Furthermore, so many new subscribers had signed on that the editor had had to produce three printings of some early issues to supply those who wanted complete sets of the new publication.  Niles would never get rich producing the Register–his published complaints about slow subscription payments are a recurring theme throughout his career–but the paper was clearly well established almost from the outset.

The value that subscribers saw in the publication is easy to understand.  It was exceptionally dense with material:  there was no advertising, and only a handful of illustrations ever appeared (desired issues by collectors);  consequently, the pages were packed with text.  Furthermore, Niles frequently added extra value to the basic publication. He would occasionally reduce the type size if momentous events left him with important material that he needed to “get in,” or he would extend the regular 16-page length of the paper by adding extra pages.  On a number of occasions, special supplemental volumes on topics of particular interest — occasionally amounting to hundreds of pages — were sent gratis to subscribers. One such supplement carried a very early printing of the Star Spangled  Banner.

Deaths of Jefferson and AdamsIn addition to the sheer volume of material, there were two other outstanding aspects of the Register which distinguished it. First was its scope.  While The Register emphasized political, commercial, agricultural, and industrial news, and paid only limited attention to cultural or social issues, it reported on events worldwide.  Foreign coverage was more abbreviated than domestic reporting, but major events abroad were routinely summarized.  Furthermore, Niles drew both domestic and foreign news from a host of sources — his own reporting and extensive correspondence, foreign newspapers and domestic “exchange papers,” commercial correspondence received in the major international port of Baltimore, and private correspondence passed on to him by friends and acquaintances.  Finally, he emphasized “getting in” texts of  major documents — texts of treaties, laws, and court decisions, transcripts of speeches, official reports, and records of Congressional proceedings (perhaps a quarter of the 30,000 pages that the Register eventually contained were given over to proceedings in Congress). Collectors love that Niles included within its pages the declaration of War for the War of 1812, the constitutions of many states as they entered the Union, inaugural addresses of Presidents of the era as well as their annual state-of-the-union addresses, the Monroe Doctrine, and virtually every other national document of note. For any significant national event “Niles Register” can be counted on to provide a detailed account.

Second was its even handedness.  Niles’ pledge in the first issue of The Register to avoid party politics distinguished the paper from much of the American journalism of the era.  Many newspapers in that day represented parties, or factions within parties, or even particular candidates, and political reportage was usually one-sided and strident.  The Register, however, ignored the petty disputes between “the ins and the outs.”  As a result, there is a balanced quality to the Register that gave it an authority no other publication of its time could match.

One other great advantage favored the Register:  the richness of events in the era.  The Napoleonic Wars were still going on when the Register first appeared, and its pages were soon thereafter crowded with the events of the War of 1812, reporting in fine detail all major battles both on land & the sea. The Texas war for independence including a nice account of the Battle of the Alamo can be found within its pages.  Indian wars and foreign revolutions erupted periodically, and the war between Mexico and the United States occurred late in the period. Domestic debates about major national issues–the tariff, public land policy, slavery, internal improvements–continued ceaselessly.  Industrial and technological developments abounded (the steam engine, the building of the Erie Canal & other canals and railroads, introduction of the telegraph), and an ample cast of larger-than-life characters was readily available–Napoleon Bonaparte, Tsar Alexander, the Duke of Wellington, Queen Victoria, Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, John C. Calhoun, and so many others.  It was an accident of history that the Register had all these fascinating developments and personalities to cover, but Niles made the most of it.

Creation of the Mormon ChurchHezekiah Niles’ editorship of the Register lasted 25 years.  In 1836, advancing age and declining health obliged him to turn the paper over to his son, William Ogden Niles. William Niles had been raised as a printer/journalist, and was involved with other newspapers both before and after his term at the Register.  His first editorial showed him to be his father’s son:  he expressed himself determined to “maintain the well-earned reputation of the Register” and to “record facts and events without fear or favor, partiality or affection, — in brief, to preserve its national character.”  However, he quickly showed that he had his own ideas, too. His first issue expanded the traditional format of the paper, he changed the paper’s name to “Niles’ National Register”, and he soon moved the paper to Washington, D,C., evidently hoping to extend the paper’s national political influence.

However, the move to Washington failed. The paper returned to Baltimore in 1839 and William Ogden’s tenure as editor ended that same year.   During his editorship, legal title to The Register apparently remained with Hezekiah.  When Hezekiah died in 1839, William Ogden’s step-mother, Hezekiah’s second wife, sold the property and William Ogden was out.

Jeremiah Hughes bought the franchise.  A long-time resident of Annapolis (he was in his mid-fifties when he acquired the Register), Hughes was cut from the same cloth as his long-time friend, Hezekiah Niles. Both had served in the militia in the War of 1812.  Most importantly, however,  Hughes was a journalist, having been publisher of the Maryland Republican at Annapolis for many years.  Thus, although the Whig partisanship of the Register increased notably during Hughes’ tenure, its essential news-reporting function was unimpaired.

Hughes’ editorship lasted until 1848 when business difficulties and declining health persuaded him that he could no longer publish The Register.  It was suspended in March. The cause of the Register’s suspension is not clear.  It may have resulted from nothing more than the ordinary ebb and flow of fortune in the publishing business.  In a broader sense, however, the Register was clearly losing its special place in American journalism.  The paper’s cachet had always been two-fold — its concise news summaries from around the United States and the world, and the relatively non-partisan tone of its political coverage — but the uniqueness of both these characteristics was being eroded by the late 1840s.

First, improved communications were making it easier for daily newspapers to offer the coverage from elsewhere that Hezekiah Niles had originally had to cull out of ship letters and exchange papers.  By the 1840s, faster mail service via steamboats and railroads, as well as spreading telegraph lines, had deprived the Register of its exclusive franchise on this kind of reportage. Second, partisanship in American journalism was declining.  By the 1840s, the newspaper business was established as an industry in its own right.

Rising literacy rates were giving the newspapers a growing market at the same time that improved printing processes were yielding a more affordable product to that market. The newly independent newspapers began to replace their former dependence on political ideology with a developing journalistic ideology, “objective” journalism, journalism without an obvious partisan slant.  It is ironic that the Register missed this development in journalistic style.  Hezekiah Niles had pioneered “objective” journalism–indeed, he is sometimes called its progenitor–but Jeremiah Hughes’ Register of the 1840s was much more clearly a partisan Whig publication than it had been in earlier years.  Any partisan alliance would have hurt a paper such as Niles’ Register at a time when partisan journalism was waning, but an alliance with the divided and dying Whigs was particularly unfortunate.

Whatever caused the paper’s decline, it remained suspended until July, 1848.  It then reappeared under the editorship of George Beatty from new headquarters in Philadelphia.  Little is known about Beatty, but he apparently was a novice at publishing when the opportunity to acquire the Register arose.   However, he made a serious effort to revive the franchise, and ran it for a year. But it was too little, too late.  Beatty’s journalistic inexperience showed too clearly in the paper’s pages, and the Register’s place in the marketplace disappeared.  The last regular issue appeared in June, 1849.  Three abbreviated issues appeared in September, 1849, but they were the last.

In one sense, however, the publication never died.  The full 38 years of the Register’s run is a common holding in libraries (either in paper or in 20th-century-produced microform), and bound volume commonly turn up in library deaccessionings. They are often found on booksellers shelves as well. Collectors relish the wealth of content while acknowledging its small size (some argue it was a magazine and not a newspaper) does not fit the expectation of a newspaper. But if any collector wished for a single-title collection of major events from 1811-1849, Niles’ Register would be the undisputed choice.

Consequently, it remains available for historians, genealogists, and certainly collectors of old newspapers. As one historian has said, “Probably no day passes without some researcher digging into the information supplied with so much care and responsibility by Hezekiah Niles.” The statement was made several decades ago — and Niles would be delighted to know it is still true.

#17 – Most historic: Pre-Revolutionary War… (*revisited)

May 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As our last discussion point on the most historic event to have in an early American newspaper collection we’ll consider the pre-Revolutionary War era.

What a period of time, from the mid-1600′s thru 1775. Keep in mind that the only newspapers to be had with American content thru 1704 would be British, most likely limited to the Oxford/London Gazette. The “Boston News-Letter” as America’s first successful newspaper began in 1704 but it can be exceedingly difficult to find any American newspaper prior to 1730. In any case let’s consider the event & not the rarity of the newspaper itself. Remember, we’re dreaming here anyway.

Dig out your history books and give thought to what single historic event in American history from this period you would like to have in your newspaper collection.

Source:  The Smithsonian

Source: The Smithsonian

Much of the late 17th century was dealing with settling the “New World” and territorial issues not just with the Native Americans but the various European countries, all trying to establish a foothold, and increasing it at that. The early 18th century saw the creation of colonial governments and continuing territorial problems, leading to the French & Indian War, which in itself created financial problems in England which led to greater taxation in America to pay for related expenses. Of course the colonists were not keen on tightening controls and increased taxation levied by a government 3000 miles away and before long there was a revolution.

My choice would be the “Pennsylvania Journal & Weekly Advertiser” issue of Oct. 31, 1765. Known as the “tombstone edition” because of the great graphics, it signaled the beginning of the Stamp Act in America, the most hated of the taxes up to that point, only to be following by more from Great Britain. The Stamp Act was the catalyst for a disintegrating relationship with the mother country. This newspaper (see photo) is both visually dramatic and historically significant in presaging the biggest event in 18th century America history.

What’s your thought?

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*The Fall of 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of the History’s Newsstand Blog by Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. We are grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the newspaper collecting community, and appreciate those who have participated through guest posts, comments, and readership. This year (2014) we are revisiting the top 25 posts (measured by activity), with the number 1 post being re-posted during the first week of 2015. Please enjoy. If you would like to contribute a post for consideration of inclusion on the blog, please contact Guy Heilenman at guy@rarenewspapers.com.

Living in the moment…

April 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Blog-4-28-2014-DeclarationOne of the joys of reading newspapers of a bygone era is the opportunity to put yourself in a very special moment in history. One fine example is the report in the August 22, 1776 issue of “The Continental Journal” from Boston, which notes that: “…immediately after divine worship, the Declaration of Independence was read by Col. St. Clair, and having said, ‘God save the free independent States of America!’ the army manifested their joy with three cheers. It was remarkably pleasing to see the spirit of the soldiers so raised after all their calamities, the language of every man’s countenance was, now we are a people! we have a name among the states of this world.

Such editorial commentary brings the excitement of the period to life. This is truly the way to enjoy history–what a wonderful hobby!

Not found in history books…

April 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

It is often the commentary on events in history, as found only in newspapers of the day, which provide a window onto the events not to be found in history books. Such is joy of browsing through old newspapers.

Blog-4-25-2014-CornwallisA great example is an eye-witness account of the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown as told in the November 13, 1781 issue of the “Pennsylvania Packet” of Philadelphia. found very inconspicuously on page 3 is: “Permit me to congratulate you on the success of the allied arms, the fall of the boast of Britain! the flower of its army…The allied army was drawn up in two straight lines, facing each other, leaving a space for the British column to pass. The commander in chief with his suite on the right of the American line; the count de Rochambeau opposite, on the left of the French. Lord Cornwallis pleading indisposition, the British were led by general O’Hara, conducted by general Lincoln, their colours cased, and they not allowed to beat a French or American march. The British officers in general behaved like boys who had been whipped at school; some bit their lips, some pouted, others cried…”. Only in a newspaper would this commentary be found. What a wonderful hobby!

#18 – America’s first newspaper… Check your attics. (*revisited)

April 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The very first newspaper printed in the American colonies was published in Boston in 1690 and titled “Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick”. It was a little paper with three pages of text. The fourth page was left blank for others to write handwritten pieces of news before being passed on to others. It was published by Benjamin Harris who had experience in publishing another newspaper in London several years prior to his arrival in the colonies, titled “Domestick Intelligence, Or News Both from City & Country”.

His Boston effort focused on local news but it also included gossip and unflattering reports. One account notes it contained: “…affections of a very high nature: As also sundry doubtful and uncertain Reports…”. The mixture of doubtful and uncertain reports, as well as a ban on printing without a license which Harris did not have, caused his first issue to also be his last. Reports note that the royal governor had the printing press destroyed and all known issues of that one date of September 25, 1690 confiscated.

To this day only one genuine issue of the newspaper is known to exist, and unfortunately it’s not in the United States: it is in the Public Records office in London. Some years ago it was loaned to The Newseum in Washington, D.C. (then located across the Potomac in Virginia) for a period of time, but I believe it has been returned to London.

The intriguing part of this story is that “all known issues were confiscated and destroyed”. But exactly when did this happen? Was it done several hours since it was printed, or a few days later? It was intended to be a monthly publication. Certainly the possibility exists that a few issues were not found & confiscated, and with the owners knowing of the search they may have purposely hidden them away.

Could an issue or two still exist in a Boston attic somewhere? Is there a private library where an issue was hidden among the pages of a book in hopes of not being confiscated? Could a renovation project to a Boston area home reveal an issue tucked within its walls over 300 years ago? It is fascinating to think that some examples could be found so long after being published. But to this date none have surfaced.

Speculation runs wild as to the value of an issue should it surface. It’s America’s very first newspaper, and none exist in America. What sort of price could be set on such an issue? What should be the future home of an issue should it be found?

Feel free to comment!

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*The Fall of 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of the History’s Newsstand Blog by Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. We are grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the newspaper collecting community, and appreciate those who have participated through guest posts, comments, and readership. This year (2014) we are revisiting the top 25 posts (measured by activity), with the number 1 post being re-posted during the first week of 2015. Please enjoy. If you would like to contribute a post for consideration of inclusion on the blog, please contact Guy Heilenman at guy@rarenewspapers.com.

An unusual two issue set… a disaster and a massacre…

April 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Set: FRANK LESLIE’S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPERS, New York, both dated May 3, 1873.

The Intrigue: A two issue set of the same title with the exact same date? Yes. In regards to standard daily newspapers, especially those printed for major city distribution, it was not uncommon for there to be multiple editions of the newspaper printed on the same day – perhaps a morning and evening edition. However, we have yet to discover a weekly illustrated newspaper who printed more than one version of an issue on the same day. It is this lack of discovery to-date which makes this two-issue set rather interesting. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated apparently printed two nearly identical but different issues for May 3, 1873… each having a different cover. One might think they accidentally reprinted a cover from a previous week for some of the issues, but we have had the other issues surrounding this date, and none of them have either cover in question. Additionally, while the inner pages are almost all the same, there is also another page (pg 125) which is different. Everything else is identical.

If anyone is aware of the background concerning this set, please share.

Note: Additional (and quite interesting) information concerning both front pages may be found at Colfax Massacre and Richmond Switch Disaster (Rhode Island).

#20 – Thoughts on the most historic 19th century report… (*revisited)

March 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A few weeks ago we had some interesting comments on what collectors thought was the most historic 20th century newspaper report. Let’s try the same with the 19th century. But given the tremendous diversity of events from 1801 thru 1900 I’m going to break the century into three parts: pre-Civil War; the Civil War; and post-Civil War. Let’s work our way backwards and discuss the post-Civil War era first.

There are many ways to approach “most historic”. My approach will be the most life-altering event with emphasis on “event”. One could argue that the second Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the world but it cannot be pinned down to a single date or event.

Several items come to mind: the first successful Atlantic cable in 1866 was a major step in causing the world to be much smaller–a trend which continues to this day; the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the United States was a major step in the westward expansion & settlement of the United States which changed the country in many ways; and then there is the Battle of Wounded Knee which was the last battle in the American Indian Wars and the official end of the Old West. Not to be omitted would be the invention of the automobile by gentlemen in Germany in 1889.

I’m going to go with the completion of the transcontinental railroad. In thinking of the multitude of events which played off this event and how it changed the fabric of America (pardon the ethnocentrism) I’ll vote for it as the most historic event of the 19th century post-Civil War era.

What are your thoughts?

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*The Fall of 2013 marked the 5th anniversary of the History’s Newsstand Blog by Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. We are grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to the newspaper collecting community, and appreciate those who have participated through guest posts, comments, and readership. This year (2014) we are revisiting the top 25 posts (measured by activity), with the number 1 post being re-posted during the first week of 2015. Please enjoy. If you would like to contribute a post for consideration of inclusion on the blog, please contact Guy Heilenman at guy@rarenewspapers.com.

The Battle of Los Angeles…

March 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles Times–Extra” of February 24, 1942 has one of the more dramatic, screaming headlines to be found in any newspaper: “L.A. AREA RAIDED ! ” with a smaller head noting: “Jap Planes Peril Santa Monica, Seal Beach, El Segundo, Redondo, Long Beach, Hermosa, Signal Hill”. The report begins: “Roaring out of a brilliant moonlit western sky, foreign aircraft flying both in large formation and single, few over Southern California early today and drew heavy barrages of anti-aircraft fire–the first ever to sound over United States continental soil against an enemy invader…” (see).

The Battle of Los Angeles, also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, is the name given to this rumored enemy attack and subsequent anti-aircraft artillery barrage which took place from late February 24 to early February 25, 1942 over Los Angeles. The incident occurred less than three months after the United States entered World War II as a result of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Initially, the target of the aerial barrage was thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but speaking at a press conference shortly afterward, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox called the incident a “false alarm.” Newspapers of the time published a number of reports and speculations of a cover-up. Some modern-day UFOlogists have suggested the targets were extraterrestrial spacecraft. When documenting the incident in 1983, the U.S. Office of Air Force History attributed the event to a case of “war nerves” likely triggered by a lost weather balloon and exacerbated by stray flares and shell bursts from adjoining batteries.

Air raid sirens sounded throughout Los Angeles County on the night of February 24-25, 1942. A total blackout was ordered and thousands of air raid wardens were summoned to their positions. At 3:16 am the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing .50 caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells into the air at reported aircraft; over 1,400 shells would eventually be fired. Pilots of the 4th Interceptor Command were alerted but their aircraft remained grounded. The artillery fire continued sporadically until 4:14 am. The “all clear” was sounded and the blackout order lifted at 7:21 am.

Several buildings and vehicles damaged by shell fragments, and five civilians died as an indirect result of the anti-aircraft fire, three of them killed in car accidents in the ensuing chaos and two of heart attacks attributed to the stress of the hour-long action. The incident was front-page news along the U.S. Pacific coast, and earned some mass media coverage throughout the nation.(credit to Wikipedia)

The peaceful transfer of power…

March 10, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As we approach President’s Day, there is a part of me which is somewhat sentimental about my childhood memories surrounding Washington’s Birthday. I sure do miss it as a stand alone national celebration. I fondly remember my father bringing home a cardboard version of an ax (with a chocolate-covered cherry hidden within) to present to each of us to commemorate the holiday, and without fail, reminding us to be just like George Washington – that is, to never tell a lie. Was there a bit of lore surrounding this sacred event? Sure. Did it teach us a valuable lesson? Absolutely. Somehow we’ve lost the innocence and value of oral tradition, and I wonder if we are the better for it.

Perhaps Washington never chopped down a cherry tree… and my guess is he probably told a lie at some point, but I challenge anyone to name another political leader who, in the face of such power, tradition, and popularity, was willing to hand over the reigns of power with such humility and grace.  The Massachusetts Spy, Or Worcester Gazette for March 15, 1797 records much of the proceedings of this momentous event. The link provides access to considerable details. Of particular note is his response to the Massachusetts’ Representatives of Congress who basically asked him, “What now?”  His response is precious (see below). Please enjoy!

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