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  After six months, however, Niles was able to boast that few initial subscribers had withdrawn.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.

#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.

Why historic newspapers? Time travel… raw emotion…

April 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

I remember the first time I held an authentic Civil War era newspaper and was struck by the concept of holding history in my hands. As I read through the detailed battle reports, raw emotion welled up within me as I pondered the possibility of a loved one’s tears falling upon the very newspaper I was holding – as he/she discovered the name of a close relative… even a spouse listed among those killed in battle. As I continued to peruse the paper, the prevalence of ads, birth and wedding announcements, local news reports, etc. communicated a truth that hit me like a ton of bricks: Despite the carnage of war, and the tears of many who had just learned of the loss of someone they loved, life continued to move forward. Anyone who has lost a dear friend or family member knows the emotion: “Hey world – What are you doing? STOP! Don’t you know what’s just happened?” But the train of time rushes forward – ignoring our desperate cry for just a few more minutes…

At this point I took a breath – carefully closed the newspaper, and returned to the present – convinced I had discovered the greatest hobby of them all; one that enables anyone who would dare, to go where Orson Wells, Jack Finney, and others could only dream of going: back in time.

A collector recently sent a related note stating:

Like many people I’m sure, I have over the years fantasized many times about being able to go back in time. I realize now that this hobby has enabled me to get just a glimmer of that feeling inside, as I hold such old papers, reading the words and seeing the engravings and old photos. Touching the history in such a physical, tangible way evokes a feeling as close to time travel as we can probably ever come…and is a unique experience utterly lacking in the high school history textbooks I originally studied, or merely looking at images on a computer monitor these days. -Actapublicurist

Yet another, upon discovering the Bobby Kennedy Assassination Report issue shown in the image wrote (in part):

I will never sell this newspaper…  I will be 60 in November and lived in Brooklyn when Senator Kennedy was killed.  I still shed tears when I think about it all these years later.  He left nine children (and a tenth on the way) and a wonderful wife, and we will never know what a difference this magnificent man with a huge heart would have made in the White House.  I grieve for him as if he was close friend.  I will treasure this newspaper and others in my ample collection of the RFK assassination.

What an incredible hobby!

#19 – Coffee House newspapers: a brief history… (*revisited)

March 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A number of titles on our website are referred to as “coffee house newspapers” with little explanation as to what they are. I think we owe our customers a bit of history on this interesting era.

During most of the 17th century newspaper publishing was very heavily regulated. All printing offices in England were under the control of the Surveyor of the Imprimery, or Press. Roger L’Estrange held the position in the latter half of the century and had the sole privilege of writing, printing & publishing newspapers, being involved in the “Intelligencer”, “The News”, the “City Mercury” and the “Observator“. His monopoly was broken in 1665 with the creation of the “Oxford Gazette”, renamed the “London Gazette” when it removed there after 23 issues in Oxford.

With the arrival of William of Orange in 1689 came a reduction of state control over the press. This new-found freedom gave the independent press a real impetus. Readers’ interests widened. Politics & religion were no longer everyone’s cup of tea, for it was in the post-1689 years that the coffee house as a meeting place for exchanging merchandise & ideas came into its own. Newspapers provided stimulus for conversations and gossip & entertainment became accepted & then demanded.
The London coffee-houses provided a gathering place where any man who was reasonably dressed could smoke his long, clay pipe, sip his coffee, read the newsletters of the day, or enter into conversation with other patrons. At this period when journalism was in its infancy and the postal system was unorganized and irregular, the coffee-house provided a center of communication for news and information. Runners were sent round to the coffee house to report major events of the day, such as victory in battle or political upheaval, and the newsletters and gazettes of the day were distributed chiefly in the coffee house. Most of the establishments functioned as reading rooms. In addition, bulletins announcing sales, sailings, and auctions covered the walls of the establishments, providing valuable information to the businessman who conducted much of his business from a table at his favorite coffee house.

During this era, particularly the early years of the 18th century, newspapers such as the “Tatler“, “Spectator“, “Guardian” “Athenian Mercury” & “Rehearsal” among others were very much in vogue in the coffee houses, and were more dialogue in format with back & forth discussion of a specific topic rather than reporting of news of the day.

By the latter half of the 18th century coffee house culture had run its course, but left in its wake much interesting literary work by some notable names including Daniel DeFoe (wrote for “A Review Of The State Of The Nation“, Joseph Addison & Richard Steele among others. Newspaper format tended more towards reporting news events of the day with presses being established outside the boundaries of London as well as increased activity within the city. One of the more successful titles which flourished in the latter half of the 1700’s was the “London Chronicle“, many issues of which we offer on our website, catalogs and supplements.

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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.

Edward Cave Junior, and his Gentleman’s Magazine…

March 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

A few months ago we wrote about what is considered by many to be the most successful literary magazine of all time, The Gentleman’s Magazine. While RareNewspapers.com continues to offer many original issues of this title from the 18th and early 29th centuries, few know of the magazine’s or its founder, Edward Cave, Junior. A collector friend recently came across a wonderful posting by The Society of 18th-Century Gentleman which goes into considerable detail concerning both. An excerpt includes:

“…Edward Cave eventually purchased a small print house and shortly after began The Gentleman’s Magazine. The first issue appeared in January of 1731. Cave quickly became a highly respected publisher and businessman, and “a multitude of magazines arose” all over the world. The magazine was soon the most well-known and highly respected publication in the English language. It is widely believed that Mr. Cave was the first person ever to use the term “magazine” to describe a monthly publication of this type…”

(view the entire post)

If you’ve never perused this little gem, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with its detailed coverage of events of the day.

#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.

#21 – Pricing newspapers over 30 years ago… (*revisited)

March 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

pricing_issues_iiIn conversations with people about how I started this business, a common question is, “How did you know how to prices newspapers back then?” Well, the short answer is I didn’t.

This venture started as a hobby with no thought of it turning into a business. But when I started getting too many of a similar title or date, selling off the “unwanteds” became a more common occurrence. My simple thought was, if I had $3 for it, try to sell it for $5. If I did, the price stuck for future issues; if it didn’t, the price dropped to $4.

But this became trickier years later when I was buying for resale but didn’t have enough experience to know what to pay, nor what to price them at. Nor did anyone for that matter, as there were no price guides, nor sufficient auction records to offer a clue.

I was flying by the seat of my pants. If I thought an event was historic, say a major Civil War battle, I would pay the $5 price and increase it by 50% or so. If it sold, then the next time I inched it up a bit more. If it didn’t, I reduced the price a bit. Never knowing how high customers might go for an event, I might have “inched up” the price of an event 15 times over the coarse of 4 or 5 years until there was some resistance. I was careful to keep records of sales through the years–even in the pre-computer days–which was a tremendous assistance in assigning values to the myriad of historical events covering 300 years of history.

pricing_issues_iDid I sell some great material too cheaply in the early years? I sure did. Looking at some of my earlier catalogs I gladly pay five times the selling price of many items I sold. But it was part of the process. I remember nce having a volume of a Las Vegas, New Mexico newspaper from 1881. There must have been 30 or 40 issues with a small “Reward” ad for the capture of Billy the Kid. I think I sold those issues for less than $20 each. If I had 40 of them how rare could they be? Certainly I’ve learned through the years, and became smarter as well.

But we are still challenged today with some items. As we continue to find truly rare, almost unique issues it becomes difficult to assign values with no history or prior sales. But these are the fun challenges. As much as you may enjoy finding interesting items in our catalogs, I enjoy finding the unusual to offer.

Although this is a business, I have always gotten more joy from buying newspapers than selling them.

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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.

Whatcha Got? Harry Rinker interviews Tim Hughes…

February 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Many collectors are quite familiar with Harry Rinker’s nationally syndicated radio talk show, “Watcha Got?”. Harry recently interviewed Tim regarding the Rare Newspapers collectible. Please enjoy the interview at (click on the audio mp3 button):  Watcha Got?

Note: The interview lasts about 15 minutes and begins at the 28:50 time marker (just slide the bar to this point). Better yet, enjoy Harry’s entire broadcast. 🙂

#23 – Thoughts on the collecting of Obama inauguration newspapers… (*revisited)

February 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

It seems that with every election or inauguration I get asked about the collectability of such newspapers, so I thought I might share my thoughts with you, and encourage you to do the same.

USA Today - Obama Election & Inuguration

USA Today – Obama Election & Inuguration

As for pure collectability, sure, election and inauguration issues are collectible because they document a very important part of American history and the democratic process. The smooth transfer of power from one person or administration to another does not come easily to many countries today. And to be able to add such historic issues to a collection for 50 cents or a buck is a great opportunity.

But I suspect the real interest of many who inquire about the collectability (of Barrack Obama election and inauguration issues) is the potential for such issues to increase in value. My opinion is, in general, no. They will not increase much in value in years to come. Now I’m speaking of “recent” history, say the last 30 years or so. I feel the public has become very collector-focused the last several decades, and many, many “historic” newspapers have been set aside in attics and drawers only to be found by their children many years later.

For a newspaper to appreciate dramatically in value I believe it requires several things: 1) Historic content. Yes, elections and inaugurations are historic; 2) Rarity. No, elections and inaugurations of the past 30 years are not rare because they were hoarded in large quantities and will always be relatively common; and 3) Something unique or dramatic. A “screaming” headline in tall, bold letters, or a cleverly worded headline, or something else which makes the issue unusual.

Supposedly the New York Times printed an extra one million issues of its January 21 inauguration issue, and I suspect most of them will be hoarded in quantity. The Washington Post printed a much larger quantity than normal, but they didn’t comment on the exact quantity. I’m sure it was sizable, and many of those issues will be hoarded. All this means that 20 years from now issues will be showing up on eBay (or its equivalent at that time) and anywhere else people might try to sell collectibles. With millions of such newspapers in the marketplace will the values get higher and higher? I doubt it.

Issues which tend to increase in value are those which were NOT saved. Most major headlines pre-World War II have appreciated nicely in value because they were not hoarded in quantities. I just don’t think the American public was collector-conscience then, so consequently they are genuinely rare in additional to being historic. And add a huge headline or terrific graphic and you have the potential for a very desirable newspaper; one which has appreciated nicely in value.

As an interesting side note, I understand that the New York Post printed a special afternoon inauguration edition on January 20. Given that most major newspapers are morning publications, coverage of the inaugural proceedings would be in their September 21 issue. But the Post had coverage in their January 20 issue, the same day as the election. A friend, stopping by a newsstand in New York city bought several issues of the Times of January 21 and noted a stack of other issues in the back. Inquiring what they were he was told it was the Post of the 20th, “…but they came in too late to be sold on the newsstand, so they will be returned. We can’t sell a day old newspaper…” the friend promptly purchased them all. I’d be curious to hear how many of the January 20 afternoon edition were actually sold on the streets and not returned for destruction. Perhaps that edition will have a real rarity component.

But don’t let this deter you from collecting historic events of the last 30 years and events yet to come. One of the great aspects of this hobby is the ability to assemble a great collection of truly historic newspapers at a nominal cost–at the newsstand price if you are lucky.

What are your thoughts?

Note: The Times News (out of Lehighton, PA) interviewed Tim concerning this topic. The article may be accessed at: http://www.tnonline.com/about

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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. In 2014 we will revisit the top 25 posts (measured by activity), with the number 1 post being revisited 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.

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