“The Pennsylvania Magazine” was one of only two American magazines which published during the years of the Revolutionary War, including a June, 1775 issue containing a great coverage of Battle of Bunker Hill and Washington’s appointment as Commander-In-Chief, and ending with the July, 1776 issue which included the Declaration of Independence.
For most of its 19 month life, which began in January, 1775, it was edited by the famed Thomas Paine, employed by the publisher Robert Aitken. Aitken was often frustrated by Paine’s procrastination in providing material, as mentioned in Isaiah Thomas’ “History of Printing in America”:
“…Aitken contracted with Paine to furnish, monthly, for this work, a certain quantity of original matter; but he often found it difficult to prevail on Paine to comply with his engagement…Aitken went to his lodgings & complained of his neglecting to fulfill his contract…insisted on Paine’s accompanying him & proceeding immediately to business & as the workmen were waiting for copy. He accordingly went home with Aitken & was soon seated at the table with the necessary apparatus, which always included a glass, and a decanter of brandy. Aitken observed, ‘he would never write without that.’ The first glass of brandy set him thinking; Aitken feared the second would disqualify him, or render him intractable; but it only illuminated his intellectual system; and when he had swallowed the third glass, he wrote with great rapidity, intelligence and precision; and his ideas appeared to flow faster than he could commit them to paper. What he penned from the inspiration of the brandy was perfectly fit for the press without any alternation or correction.”
The best headlines need no commentary. Such is the case with the LOS ANGELES TIMES, June 29, 1933: “‘FATTY’ ARBUCKLE DIES“
One of our more recent purchases was a sizable collection of newspapers from the West Coast which included many 20th century issues covering the deaths of famous movie stars or entertainers. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles newspaper gave much coverage to the passing of some of the more iconic names of stardom from the “golden era”. Those of a certain age well remember many of famous names of the 1930’s-1950’s (totally unknown to the millennial generation) and I count myself among them, so it was with a certain amount of nostalgia that I read the reports as I was writing up the newspapers for future catalogs.
If I had any common reaction to the reports I read it was to the age of many when they died. When I think of such stars I always presumed they were in their late 60’s or late 70’s when they were still acting & much older when they died. But that was when I was in my teens and 20’s, and anyone who had been “around for awhile” seemed like they were much older than they actually were. I was struck by the ages of many when they died, and perhaps you might be as well. Here is a sampling:
Humphrey Bogart 57
Rudolph Valentino 31
George Gershwin 38
Nat “King” Cole 45
Clark Gable 59
Jean Harlow 26
Cary Cooper 60
Mario Lanza 38
Jayne Mansfield 34
Steve McQueen 50
Judy Garland 47
The best headlines need no commentary. Such is the case with the DAILY NEWS, Los Angeles, November 16, 1954: “LIONEL BARRYMORE, STAGE GREAT, DIES“
The Los Angeles “Herald Express” newspaper of August 5, 1938 honored the interesting exploits of Douglas Corrigan with a rarity in the newspaper world: a headline printed backwards.
This was one of the fascinating tidbits of aviation history. Corrigan flew from Long Beach, California to New York & wanted to fly to Ireland but was denied. So he filed his flight plan to return to Long Beach but flew instead to Ireland, stating “navigational errors” due to heavy cloud cover, etc. (see hyperlink for details). He was given a ticker tape parade in New York City with the banner headline reporting: “N.Y. Millions In Bedlam of Noise and Tons of Confetti Greet L.A. Air Hero” with subheads and a large photo of the parade.But the fascinating part of this item is the banner headline at the very top of the ftpg: ” ! NAGIRROC YAW GNORW OT LIAH” and with a small note below it stating: “If You Don’t Know, Read this the Way Corrigan Flew–Backwards!“
The April 27, 1881 issue of the rare “Elk Mountain Pilot” from the ghost town of Irwin, Colorado, has 3 interesting and unusual tidbits concerning the recent death of the noted outlaw, Jesse James: “Jesse James has climbed the golden stairs, (?) to interview those he has sent before.” and: “The papers throughout the country are publishing the picture of Jesse James and no two of them are alike.” as well as: “We have not heard of any one taking up a subscription to erect a monument to the memory of Jesse James.” Yet another tidbit mentions the death of Charles Darwin – making these mentions an interesting tandem.
The best headlines need no commentary. Such is the case with the Los Angeles Examiner, June 20, 1953: “Atom Spies Executed For Aid To Russians”
Memorial Day – Unfortunately, for most, this hallowed holiday has degraded into nothing more than a day off to have family picnics and to rest. While these activities have value, too often we forget the cost paid by many to both provide and then preserve our ability to do so in a free and safe society. However, we recently discovered a video (see below) made to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the consecration of Arlington Cemetery which helps to bring us back to our roots. This also led us to explore our inventory to see if we could find any coverage which might relate – which, as you can see, we did in a New York Times from June 20, 1864.(see right) and a Harper’s Weekly from June 20, 1868 (see above). Feel free to read, watch, ponder… and be thankful.
Greater love has no One than this, that One lay down his life for His friends. (John 15:13)
The introduction to collecting old newspapers for most typically comes through finding a newspaper of recent past with a headline remembered from history class. They turn up in flea markets, garage sales, and attics, but wherever the discovery, there is a fascination which—for many—begins a quest to find more and better.
Of the five centuries from which old newspapers can be found, the 20th century has one distinct advantage and that is displayability. It was just before the turn of the 20th century that newspaper competition was rampant in the United States and bigger and bigger headlines became one method of grabbing attention over a competitor’s newspaper on the corner newsstand. Headlines from the Spanish-American War of 1898 were often large and dramatic, and that format carried well into the 20th century. Although the aim was to sell more newspapers, the unintended long-term consequence was to intrigue the collector with an enticing headline that would look great on display.
I will touch on some of the more notable events of the 20th century, in chronological order, which may present a “checklist” of events which would be great additions to any collection.
Their can be little question that the oil industry transformed the American landscape, and the first major discovery happened at the beginning 20th century with the Spindletop well near Houston. Just two years later the Wright brothers would make history with their first powered flight, again an event which would transform that way the entire world lives. The first major natural tragedy would be the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and many newspapers provided graphic details.
The sinking of the Titanic was the next major tragedy which dominated the headlines for not just a day but for several weeks, and newspapers did much to dramatize the event & its investigation. While some newspaper maintained a very conservative format, others sported full banner headlines in bold type with illustrations and photos to make for an appealing front page. Just 3 years later the sinking of the Lusitania would receive similar response by newspaper publishers across the country.
World War I made headlines in American newspapers beginning in 1915, but it was America’s entry in the war in 1917 that would spark more detailed coverage of the war that would end in 1918. News of the armistice ending the war would result in some of the largest & most dramatic headlines to appear in newspapers up to that time.
Following the war, baseball would enter its golden era when Babe Ruth came on the scene, he becoming one of the first of the major stars of the 20th century and capturing headlines in newspapers across the country. But just prior to his hay-day was the infamous “Black Sox” scandal of the Chicago White Sox, with charges of fixing the 1919 World Series games involving several Chicago players. But those headlines would soon be supplanted by the exploits of Ruth as his record-breaking streak added much excitement to the game of baseball and newspapers were only too happy to comply with considerable coverage. Other stars would find prominence as well, including fellow Yankees Lou Gehrig & Joe DiMaggio, and later on Ted Williams & Jackie Robinson among the more notable.
Charles Lindbergh’s accomplishment of being the first to fly solo across the Atlantic caused him to be one of the most famous men in the world at the time, and newspaper coverage was exceptional. But shortly after his 1927 flight the gangster era came to the attention of newspaper, the St. Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929 being one of the first major events to find front page coverage across the country. This fascinating era would extend into the mid-1930’s and names such as Al Capone, John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Legs” Diamond and “Dutch” Schultz were commonly found on front pages.
The stock market crash of 1929 would trigger the Great Depression, which affect the entire nation in so many ways. Collectors look for the most dramatic wording in such a headline, with “Crash” “Tragedy” and similar cataclysmic words making for desirable collector pieces.
Other sports and sports stars would come to prominence in newspapers of the day, including golfer Bobby Jones and his Triple Crown accomplishment in 1930; Phar Lap, one of the more famous race horses of the 20th century; Jim Thorpe and his Olympic and football prowess; Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics, World Cup soccer, Notre Dame football, boxing greats Jack Johnson, Jack Sharkey, Max Schmeling & Joe Louis commanding headlines, and so much more. There was such extensive coverage of sports in the 20th century that many build huge collections with this singular theme.
Perhaps the most defining event of the 20th century was World War II, begun with the ascendency of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany and his invasion of Poland in 1939. With America’s entry in the war upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, barely a single newspaper for the next 4 ½ years would be devoid of war coverage. Because such issues were commonly saved and found in attics by their children, collectors pursue only the most major events and with the largest headlines. Tops of the list would be Pearl Harbor, battle of Midway, the D-Day invasion, the death of Hitler, the end of the war in Europe, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and the end of the war in the Pacific. Many tabloid-size newspapers had the entire front page consumed by headlines, lending themselves to displayability, particularly given their smaller size.
The Korean War would begin the 1950’s, and would be followed by events of the Cold War. At the end of the decade music would begin making some headlines, led by Elvis Presley and more tragically with the airplane death of Buddy Holly & Richie Valens. A few years later the Beatles would come on the scene to define the music world for the 1960’s.
Politics always made headlines in the 20th century which began with McKinley and ended with Bill Clinton, but perhaps the most collectible political person would be John F. Kennedy. His assassination –the second of the 20th century–stunned the world , and some headlines were extremely dramatic. Always the “best of the best” would be newspapers from where the event happened, so it is no surprise that Dallas newspaper reports on the JFK assassination draw the most interest.
Although the space era began as early as 1928 with the work of Robert Goddard, it was the success of Sputnik & the resulting space race in the late 1950’s that would captivate the headlines. America made its mark in the early 1960’s with Alan Shepard and John Glenn, culminating in 1969 with the landing of men on the moon & their safe return.
Scattered throughout the 20th century are many memorable names which made the occasional headline, including Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Houdini, Albert Einstein, Rudolph Valentino & Walt Disney to name but a few.
Regardless what events or themes a collector might pursue from the 20th century the challenge is to find the most dramatic and impactful report. Large headlines command a premium, and when photos or graphics accompany a headline it only adds to the appeal. Collectors know some great headline reports are lurking out there just begging to be found. The thrill is finding them, and make them prized additions to their collection.
The best headlines need no commentary. Such is the case with the Journal American, April 12, 1955: “Salk’s Vaccine Works!”