We are often asked about appropriate reference books for rare newspaper collectors, particularly when it comes to relative rarity of newspapers. When one encounters an early title not seen before, how can we judge how rare or common it might be?
Thankfully for all collectors, Clarance Brigham undertook an exhaustive 30 year project to record all know issues of every newspaper title printed in the United States prior to 1821. This effort, published by the American Antiquarian Society (Brigham was directory of the Society) back in 1947, is titled: “History & Bibliography of American Newspapers 1690-1820“, a two volume set with some 1500 pages in total.
This work lists all American newspapers from the noted timespan, by state, then by city, then by title. The true value of this work is the brief historical account of each title with the exact dates of changes of titles & names of publishers, followed by a checklist of all files located. This last piece is what reflect relative rarity. If a title has just one or two holdings in institutions, and only a few issues within these institutions, then it would be consider rare. If a title has 15 institutional holdings noted, and complete or near complete holdings within those institutions, the title might be considered common.
This set has been out of print for many years, including the more recent edition done in 1975, but they occasionally come up on eBay or web-based rare book sites such as abebooks.com. Prices tend to run from $200 to $400 for a set, but a lucky person might find it for much less. I believe we have a set of the 1947 edition priced at $265.
I would encourage any collector of pre-1821 newspapers to think about adding this work to their reference library. It contains a wealth of information and is a resource which I have used regularly for over 30 years.