In 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.
Did 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.
*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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
As dealers we have been very true to our focus on rare newspapers, and—for the most part—only newspapers. Yes, we have ventured into the occasional old document, pamphlet, colonial currency and the other items I’ve found intriguing, but otherwise we offer only historic newspapers.
But one big exception has been 18th century magazines. As is likely the case with most collectors of history, the over-riding aim is to find historic news reports dated as early as possible, and the availability of newspapers runs quite thin before 1760 (the London Chronicle dates to 1755 and is the single biggest source of period reports back to this period) if British titles are accepted, and only back to about 1787 if American newspapers are the only option.
It was many years ago that I discovered one of the best titles of the 18th century for period news reporting, and it wasn’t even a newspaper. It is a magazine. More specifically, “The Gentleman’s Magazine” from London. Having begun in 1731, its pages captured news reports concerning America which could never be found in period American newspapers, and rarely found in period British newspapers. From its earliest years “The Gentleman’s Magazine” printed reports on the creation of the colony of Georgia, the founding of the town of Savannah, with many issues mentioning James Olgethorpe. From 1736 are reports of William Penn laying out the city of Philadelphia, and the 1730’s has several reports of pirates operating in the Caribbean and the Atlantic, as well as famous highwayman Dick Turpin. Slave revolts in Jamaica, “Customs of the Jews” and other smaller reports from the American colonies round on the 1730’s.
The 1740’s have several items on the slavery issue which would be a topic of discussion on both sides of the Atlantic well into the 19th century. And relating to slavery are several issues of the 1770’s on famous slave/poet Phillis Wheatley.
There are early reports on the sport of cricket, and much on the Jacobite Rebellion including mention of “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. Other curious reports from the 1740’s include text on Handel and his “Messiah”, Ben Franklin mention with various electricity experiments, the death of astronomer Edmund Halley, the origin of the game of chess, and a curious item on a northwest passage to China through Canada. Military events in periodicals are never-ending, and this decade prints the text of the Treaty of Aix la Chapelle, among many other military events.
The 1750’s are highlighted by much reporting on the French & Indian War between the French & the British, with mention of Quebec, Crown Point, Fort DuQuesne and all the other major battle sites. Keep in mind that the American colonies were British possessions at the time so there was much interest in
“The Gentleman’s Magazine” has nice reporting on Ben Franklin’s lightening rod experiments, and there is also a terrific—although inconspicuous—mention of what would become known to all Americans as the Liberty Bell. Under the heading: “America” and with a “Philadelphia, May 10″ dateline from 1753 is a report reading:
“Last week was raised and fixed, in the State-House Steeple, the great bell, weighing 2080 lb. cast here, with this inscription,
‘Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, to the inhabitants thereof.” This is how they reported the installation of what would become known as the Liberty Bell.England in reporting events relative to the colonies. A special feature of Gentleman’s was their very early mention of George Washington, a Major in the Virginia military in 1754 and 1755 when he lead others into battle in Pennsylvania. Such mention of Washington in an American newspaper would result in a price well beyond the budget of most collectors.
The 1760’s in “The Gentleman’s Magazine” are highlighted by the growing tensions between the colonies and England. The full text of the hated Stamp Act is found within its pages, and just a year later is found the formal repeal of the Stamp Act by the British King. Other Acts of Parliament harmful to colonial relations are reported as well.
News from the 1770’s begin with the Boston Massacre (and the trial details of those involved), reported in Gentleman’s in nice detail. All the events of the Revolutionary War received excellent coverage, from the Boston Tea Party to Lexington & Concord, the Battle of Bunker Hill, Saratoga, White Plains, Ticonderoga, Cowpens, Guilford Court House and the other military initiatives of the war with considerable mention of George Washington, Gage, Gates, Burgoyne, Ethan Allen, Howe, Greene, Cornwallis, John Paul Jones, and others. There is even much detail on the infamous Benedict Arnold/Major Andre treason.
Historic documents are found within the pages of “Gentleman’s Magazine” as well, including the Articles of Confederation, the “Causes & Necessity for Taking Up Arms”, the Constitution of the United States (in 1787), and the most desired document of all, the Declaration of Independence. At a time when a period printing of the Declaration in an American newspaper will sell for over a quarter of a million dollars, to be able to purchase a 1776 magazine with a timely printing of the Declaration of Independence for under $4000 is a rare opportunity for any collector.
The 1780’s begin with the closing events of the Revolutionary War, including the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, and shortly thereafter the formal text of the Treaty which ended the Revolutionary War. There are reports on Captain James Cook’s famous voyages of exploration, the obituary of Benjamin Franklin, and with attention focusing more on European reports later in the decade are reports of the fall of the Bastille and the French Revolution, and into the 1790’s with the mutiny on the Bounty, the guillotine execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, then into the early 19th century with the Battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Gentleman’s also printed the text of Washington’s final state-of-the-union address, and then just a few years later, his death.
A very nice bonus found in many of the pages of Gentleman’s is maps & plates. They cannot be found in newspapers of the day. Printed separately from the regular pages of the issue and tipped within, most of the maps fold out to be double the size of the issue, and they includes some of the more desired maps one would want of the 18th century, including Philadelphia, the colonies (from 1755), Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, the Caribbean, St. Augustine, the entire western hemisphere and so much more. Many collectors choose to frame the maps separate from the issue as they are very decorative and are typically dated in an upper corner.
Plates include the Philadelphia State House, later to be known as Independence Hall; St. Philip’s Church in Charleston, the fort at Bunker’s Hill, Ben Franklin’s ‘Square of Squares’, the guillotine which beheaded Louis XVI and his wife, a slavery medal, and even a plate of the Garden of Eden. Plus there is so much more.
The “Gentleman’s Magazine” is a little gem packed with all the history one would want to find from the 18th century. Measuring about 5 by 8 inches and typically having about 40 pages they take up very little room in a collection. But best of all it is an accessible title, and at prices far below what would be found in comparable American & British newspapers of the same period.
There can be little excuse for holding back on buying the best events in American history if one is willing to add this famous & successful title to their collection. And there certainly will be a time when even this title will become very scarce as others discovery it as the little gem just begging to be collected.
Note: Rather than include an endless number of (annoying) links above, if you have interest in any of the topics discussed, simply go to the following link and enter the topic into the search field: www.RareNewspapers.com
“Four score and seven years ago…”
150 years ago this month, President Abraham Lincoln delivered what we now consider to be one of the greatest speeches of all time. Interestingly enough, since 5 different manuscripts exist, there is some disagreement amongst historians concerning what he actually said. Might original newspapers of the day with eye witness accounts provide the answer? If the speech had been long we probably wouldn’t have a high degree of confidence in the newspaper reporters’ accounts, but the brevity of the speech certainly increases the probability of an accurate transcription. Original reports may not have the definitive answer to this question, but they certainly provide reasonable evidence regarding what was actually spoken. Once again, “History is never more fascinating than when it is read from the day it was first reported.“
It is not often I travel to Yahoo for answers to some of the more meaningful questions of life: Where did we come from? What is the purpose of Life? Do old newspapers have value? However, I recently came upon a post on Yahoo Voices which did a decent job of handling this last question. It begins:
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…
One of the benefits of collecting notable newspapers is not only the joy of finding an historically significant report–like Washington’s proclamation announcing the formal end of hostilities with England–but appreciating the eloquence of our leaders of years past. With all our modern intelligence & computer-enabled resources at our fingertips, it seems like the simple skill of writing has been lost with our generation.
The referenced event was recently discovered in the “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).
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)