My Collecting Story… Gregory Christiano…

July 23, 2009 by  
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gregory-christiano1Many people think of a newspaper as ephemera, something to be thrown away after you read it or to be used to wrap fish or make silly hats. I never looked at it that way. After college graduation in 1969 I began to get an interest in antiquarian books, maps, prints and other collectibles. It wasn’t until I saw an ad in the paper for historic and antique newspapers. I sent away for the catalogue and notice a reference to a baseball game with line and box scores in a New York paper from 1865. I was curious and spent $2.00 to purchase it. Well, that got me hooked. Being an avid baseball fan, I lost all control and purchased dozens of those early papers with accounts of baseball games. In those early days (1970’s) it was relatively inexpensive to buy 19th century newspapers. There were only a few dealers and I became a regular customer. Timothy Hughes was one of my very first suppliers. I was never disappointed with the condition and the authenticity of my purchases.

When I first started collecting these papers, I had to learn about their fragility the hard way. I try to keep my collection pre-1870’s because those newspapers were printed on rag cloth and can be preserved a very long time. The technology to print newspapers on pulp had been around since the mid-nineteenth century but really picked up by the later`part of the 1870’s. My collection includes late 19th-century and twentieth century issues. Most of them are crumbling to the touch because of the sawdust-composite nature of newsprint. My bound volume of the NY Herald from 1877 is turning to dust. I do have a unique bound volume of the New York Times from early 1940’s printed on silk for archive storage. I picked that up at an auction in the early 1980s. To this day it looks brand new! My 20th-century collection is becoming brittle with each day, even after taking precautions to preserve these cherished papers. They are discolored and disintegrating. That’s why libraries have placed all their collections on microfiche.

I just don’t have the discretionary cash to have a professional paper conservator preserve my entire collection. I use the standard acid-free buffered boxes and folders (careful to keep the newspaper unfolded), storing my collection in a dark environment with a stable temperature between 65 and 70 degrees.

Most of my collection consists of mostly 19-century New York City papers – Sunday Mercury, Herald, Tribune, World, Sun, Times, Daily Star, Daily Graphic, then into the twentieth-century with Herald-Tribune, World, Telegram and Sun, Journal American, Mirror, Daily News. Then I branched out to Colonial and Revolutionary period, with titles like Dunlap and Claypool American Daily Advertiser (1790s – I have about four issues), The Aurora (Benjamin Franklin Bache – 1790s), Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser from 1793 [the forerunner to Dunlap’s paper].

I also have some sporting magazines, Porter’s Spirit of the Times, Wilke’s Spirit of the Times, and of course, Harper’s Weekly and others. Today I concentrate on specific issues of interest for me, like early reporting on rapid transit in New York City [the New York Daily Graphic has some terrific illustrations of the early elevated lines, like the Gilbert Elevated RR, sporting events, Civil War accounts etc.

Some rare titles: Day’s New-York Bank Note List, Counterfeit Detector and Price Current. published 1826-1859 [I collect bank notes and coins also]… Demorest’s New York Illustrated News…a couple of 1864 copies. Greenleaf’s New-York Journal & Patriotic Register (late 1790s) – I have a couple of these. On and on and on. They are too numerous to list here. I’ve been collecting for over 30 years, and am still fascinated with every issue I have in my collection.

I am on mailing lists and receive constant updates on what is available. The prices have gone up, but still reasonable. What copies I can’t obtain, I can see at the New York Public Library where I go to access their microfilm department to read and photocopy some of the rarer issues. There is nothing like reading history as it happened, by eyewitnesses as the events unfolded. With the future of newspapers in question, collecting them is even more important. Yesterday’s newspapers are not dead, not irrelevant, but still alive:

This is what really happened, reported by a free press to a free people. It is the raw material of history; it is the story of our own times. -Henry Steel Commager, preface to a history of the New York Times, 1951

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Thanks for sharing your story Gregory.  If you would like to share your story of how you became interested in collecting rare and/or historic newspapers, e-mail it to and place “My Story” in the subject field.  Although not necessary, feel free to include an image. Please do not include your e-mail address or a personal website as part of the text of your story.  We will post collector stories every few weeks and will send you a notice when your story appears.  Thank you for your contribution to the community.

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