After 35 years in the hobby I can honestly say today as I said then: collecting early newspapers is an inexpensive hobby when compared to other collectibles of like vintage. And the reason is basic economics: supply and demand. Although the collecting fraternity has increased through the years, and the supply of early newspapers has dwindled some, prices still remain a relative bargain for material over 100—and over 200—years old.
Exceptions exist. American newspapers of the 18th century are few and far between today. When I began in the hobby in the mid-1970’s, finding the occasional 18th century bound volume of American newspapers was rather common. I even purchased a number of volumes of colonial and Revolutionary War newspapers printed in the colonies. Such purchases are very rare today, and consequently prices for American titles before the1790’s can be exorbitant for many collectors.
Which brings me to this topic. We are fortunate in this hobby to have a terrific alternative to American newspapers of the colonial era: British newspapers. Keeping in mind that the American colonies were British possessions at the time, considerable American reporting was not uncommon (and I can attest that American newspapers of the same period had considerable European reports!). In fact most British newspapers took their accounts directly from American newspapers so the reporting was identical. And the added bonus of British newspaper reports is commentary with a British bias, offering an interesting perspective to what we remember from history class.
Hobbyists of 25 – 50 years ago eschewed British titles because American titles were so common. But today the collecting market is much different. In many respects I see today’s availability & pricing of British titles much like the situation with American titles 50 years ago. We can find major American events of the colonial era at prices still under $1000 (higher for the “best of the best”) in the London Chronicle or like titles, and under $300 for second tier events. We find there is typically a 5 fold price difference between reports in American versus British newspapers. We’ve sold the Boston Tea Party for $1150 in the London Chronicle. In an American newspaper a like account would exceed $6000. We’ve sold the Boston Massacre in the London Chronicle for the same price. And it would easily exceed $6000 in an American title. One of the most significant documents of the Revolutionary War, “The Causes & Necessity For Taking Up Arms”, we sell as a $340 item in the Gentleman’s Magazine, yet we sold it for $5550 in the New England Chronicle. Same complete document, both from 1775, one within the budget of most collectors, the other not.
But prices are rising for British imprints as more collectors are becoming aware that if they want their collection to contain all the significant events of the 18th century, British newspapers and magazines are their only alternative. The Declaration of Independence remains the most desired event for American collectors. An American newspaper printing is beyond the budgets of almost all collectors, if available at all. An auction price of $50,000 – $75,000 would be expected, while we recently sold the same document in the London Chronicle for $8775. But I will also note it was not long ago that we sold it for $4450. Our current price for a front page account of the Battle of Lexington & Concord in the London Chronicle is $985. Our previous sale of the identical dated issue was $440.
Where will the hobby be with such events in another 25 years? Will all 18th century newspapers–American and British–be considered museum pieces? Much will determine where prices go and I will not hazard a guess. But I am pleased that as the hobby enters a crossroad in availability versus pricing, we currently have a reasonable path to follow for the foreseeable future. These are interesting times for the collecting fraternity.