You've Happened Upon a Stack of Old Newspapers...Some Have Historic Headlines! Are They Worth Anything?
Let face it, old newspapers don't get much respect. In today's world, they're generally seen as material for the recycler. And years ago, many libraries simply tossed them out after converting them to micro or digital files. But do old or antique newspapers have any collectible value? The answer is a definite...maybe!
Newspapers have been around almost as long as the Gutenberg Press. And in general they've been seen as expendable--meant to be read a time or two and then thrown away, or used for fish wrap or some other convenient purpose. But newspapers also have tremendous historic value...Pennsylvania Journal & Weekly Advertiser" newspaper of April 30, 1783. Page two contains this very historic report, but of equal fascination is the wording of the document. He congratulates the Army, noting that those who have performed the "...meanest office..." have participated in a great drama "...on the stage of human affairs...For these are the men who ought to be considered as the pride and boast of the American Army; And, who crowned with well earned laurels, may soon withdraw from the field of Glory, to the more tranquil walks of civil life...Nothing now remains but for the actors of this mighty Scene to preserve a perfect, unvarying, consistency of character through the very last act; to close the Drama with applause; and to retire from the Military Theatre with the same approbation of Angels and men which have crowned all their former virtuous actions." There is evidence of Washington's less formal and more pedestrian side as well as he ends the document with: "An extra ration of liquor to be issued to every man tomorrow, to drink Perpetual Peace, Independence and Happiness to the United States of America." See this hyperlink for the full text (or the text of the actual newspaper below). What a thrill to find such a document which has rested on our shelves for many years just waiting to be discovered. What a thrill to be involved in such a fascinating hobby. In the world of collectables, early newspapers by no means rank among the most well-known of hobbies. In fact most would be surprised that it even is a hobby. Who knows anyone who collects early newspapers? That was exactly my thought nearly 40 years ago. Having been a coin collector since I was a kid, I knew that hobby well. I knew it well enough to recognize that no bargains could be had for the truly rare coins. Coin collecting was, and is, a well exploited hobby. The number of serious collectors must run in the hundreds of thousands with a proportionate number of dealers who make a living selling coins. So as a youngster with only grass-cutting money in my pocket, it didn’t take long to become frustrated when trying to find the last few desirable coins to fill out a set. I simply could not afford them. Everyone knew they were rare, and with more people wanting them than inventory allowed, prices were beyond my reach. I liked collecting and I wanted a hobby that dealt with history. Holding a coin minted during the time when Lincoln was President, or when Indian battles were still raging on the Plains, intrigued me. I felt like I was touching history. But I needed a collectable that was yet to be exploited. One which few people were involved in. More importantly, one where I could hope to amass a reasonably nice collection without breaking the bank. So it was by accident that while browsing through a local flea market that I came across a Philadelphia newspaper from 1846. I was intrigued, not only by the price--$3—but by what I would get. Quickly my mind ran through the host of various coins from 1846 which would require more than ten times the price tag, and what do you get but a hunk of medal with a date & an image of a dead President? A coin could be fully examined in seconds. But this 1846 newspaper would take half an hour to absorb. So $3 exchanged hands and the newspaper was mine. Handling this newspaper was better than touching history. Yes, someone in 1846 held this newspaper in their hands, just like coins of the era, but this collectable actually CONTAINED history. News of the day, including events of the Mexican-American War, were within its four pages. Political reports from the term of James K. Polk were scattered throughout. Even the advertisements were fascinating. I was hooked. The coin collection went on a shelf and I pursued whatever old newspaper I could find. It didn’t take long to discover a whole new world of collectables. Better yet, because so few people were collecting old newspapers prices seemed such a bargain compared to what coins or stamps or any other collectable with similar rarity would cost. I was convinced I got in on the ground floor. As the years passed my hobby turned into a business catering to a niche market. At best I would suspect there are less than 2000 serious collectors of rare newspapers. Compare that number to the world of stamps, coins, books, or autographs, which hundreds of thousands consider their hobby. A hobby still yet to be discovered by the collecting world, prices remain attractive for the most modest of budgets. Consider that a genuine New York Times in very nice condition from 1863 with front page Civil War reports sells for less than $30. Or consider that a genuine London Gazette from 1680—a 330+ year old newspaper—is available for under $50. Of course content certainly drives interest and price so a newspaper reporting the Battle of Gettysburg can exceed $500, while the same in a Confederate title (much more rare) could be triple the price. But still, genuine issues covering the War of 1812 sell for $25; newspapers with Indian battles are under $35; issues with baseball reports from the 1880‘s can be had for $25; newspapers from during the administration of George Washington for $45. Is there a hobby where genuine items of comparable vintage are at comparable prices? Certainly not. Rare newspaper collecting is a fascinating world which awaits any historical hobbyist. Whatever event or era in history intrigues, newspapers covered those events. From the Great Plague of London in 1666, to reports of pirates Blackbeard and Capt. Kidd, to the French & Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Texas War for Independence, every presidential election & inauguration (and death), the outlaws of the West—you name it. Newspapers exist which document those occurrences and every other transforming event in American & world history. Don’t just touch history with your hobby. Read history from the very day it was reported. You, too, will be hooked on a hobby you never knew existed. Over the past 10 years we (RareNewspapers.com) have put together a series of videos designed to help educate novices about the hobby of collecting historic newspapers. While some may be a smidge old (compared to today's high-tech standards), the information within is still pertinent. Pick a topic of interest, turn up the volume, and enjoy our perspective on the collectible. Last week we explored: "What were those living 150 years ago reading about in the newspapers during the last week of August (1863)" . The response was very positive. We hope you enjoyed the trip back in time. Today we thought we'd look ahead into the past by assembling a similar, by longer chronological list of authentic newspapers from the entire month of September, 1863. Similar to last week, the following link will take you to authentic newspapers that were held by those whose loved ones were fighting to realize their greatest convictions - whether it was to set slaves free, preserve state's rights over federal dominance, to protect house and home, or another noble cause. The issues have been arranged in chronological order. Enjoy your visit back to this incredibly formative time in American history: Authentic Newspapers (September, 1863) What were those living 150 years ago reading about in the newspapers during the last week of August? The following link will take you to authentic newspapers that were held by those whose loved ones were fighting to realize their greatest convictions - whether it was to set slaves free, preserve state's rights over federal dominance, to protect house and home, or another noble cause. The issues have been arranged in chronological order. Enjoy your visit back to this incredibly formative time in American history: Authentic Newspapers (8/24/1863 - 8/31/1863) A common way to collect historic newspapers is to assemble reports regarding various "top ten" lists. In the past, we have explored several such lists: Since the birth of the United States, there may not be a single more formative event than The Battle of Gettysburg. Authentic newspapers containing first-hand accounts continue to be one of the most sought after within the collectible. Over the years several History's Newsstand posts have been written about these contemporary reports. A sample of a few are: Battle of Gettysburg Of the many notable newspapers published in the history of the United States there are a few stand-outs for different eras. Of the colonial era the "Pennsylvania Gazette" came to prominence under the guidance of publisher Ben Franklin, and in the latter decades of the 1700's the "Gazette of the United States", and the "Columbian Centinel" were two of the more significant titles which informed the American populace for many years. Of the 19th century the "National Intelligencer" and the "New York Times" were certainly among the more prominent, but a title which did as much as any other to bring the news into the households of America was "Niles' Weekly Register". Considered by some a magazine due to its small size, I like to consider it a small newspaper, as its content was more aligned to presenting the politics & other news of the day rather than the literary content more associated with magazines. But of curious note is that it was devoid of advertising, relying entirely upon the strength of its subscription base for its existence. Hezekiah Niles edited and published his newspaper in Baltimore from 1811 until 1836, making it into one of the most widely-circulated periodicals in the United States and himself into one of the most influential journalists of his day. Devoted primarily to politics, "Niles' Weekly Register" is considered an important source for the history of the period. It continued beyond his demise until 1849. Given its close proximity to the nation's capital it was in an excellent position to print political reports but also the wealth of other news from all corners of the then-growing country which would eventually find its way to Washington, D.C. Having collected early newspapers for over 37 years I can attest to the quality of reporting--very in depth--in comparison to the physically larger newspapers of the day. Founded just a year before the outbreak of the War of 1812 and lasting through the early period of the California Gold Rush, a great wealth of American history was printed within each of its 16 weekly pages, and a nice spectrum of America in the first half of the 19th century can be gathered by simply focusing on this one title. Early in its publication the battle of Tippecanoe brought the name William Henry Harrison to prominence with his victory over the Indians, the details of which made the pages of "Niles' Weekly Register". Then all the event of the War of 1812, from President Monroe's war proclamation to the war-ending Battle of New Orleans led by Andrew Jackson (actually fought after the treaty ending the war was signed) with the host of naval battles of 1812-1815. There is hardly a topic or event from American history not found in Niles' Weekly Register. Much Judaica content, the creation of the Mormon Church and their journey west, much on the historic Maryland Jew Bill, and even mention of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee long before they would be names known to the American public were found in this newspaper. The slavery issue was certainly not side-stepped, as reports on Nat Turner's Rebellion and the Denmark Vesey case were two of the more notably events which received much coverage. The Amistad affair--not found in every newspaper of the day--was reported in many issues of Niles' as the events & trial unfolded. Certainly the issue is slavery was ever-present in congressional reports, and was a factor in the Missouri Compromise, also published in this newspaper. As the country continued to expand, the westward march was documented in many reports including the development & opening of the Erie Canal, the exploring of the Yellowstone region, and the creation of the Santa Fe Trail being just a few. Several states joined the union during the years of Niles' and as they did even the alterations to the United States flag were documented by the newspaper. Names such as Daniel Boone, infamous pirate Jean LaFitte, Samuel Morse, Daguerre and Eli Whitney are a few which were featured as their actions and inventions made news. The Texas war for independence made the news in 1835 and 1836 and many of the notable battles were reported. There is even mention of Davy Crockett leaving Congress and heading to Texas to fight for their cause, where he would meet his end at the famous Battle of the Alamo. With politics as a focus it is no surprise that elections and inaugurations were all documents in "Niles' Weekly Register", including the short term of President William Henry Harrison who just one month after being inaugurated would die in office. There is so much more history to be found within the pages of Niles'. Our troubling (and often disgraceful) relationship with the Native American Indians, including the Black Hawk War & Trail of Tears, was covered in much detail. The Mexican War and all its events was the last of the military encounters to appear in this newspaper, the treaty ending that war being signed in 1848, just one year before the demise of the newspaper. The ironic same-day deaths of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, received much coverage; the Monroe Doctrine and the curious efforts of Mordecai Manuel Noah to create a Jewish settlement on an island in the Niagara River are just two of the fascinating events of American history documented. And it was not just American history that was reported, as world-wide events, as their significance would dictate, would make the pages of Niles' as well, not the least of which was the historic battle of Waterloo which spelled the doom of Napoleon's efforts in Europe. It was a pint-sized newspaper with a powerful impact upon the documentation of American history in the first half of the 19th century. It is a title every collector should not overlook as they consider the best newspapers for reporting some of the major events in history. They all will be found in "Niles' Weekly Register".