Few thrills are greater in the rare newspaper collecting hobby than finding the unexpected historic gem. Those moments of serendipity are the treasures we all hope for at some point in our quest for new additions to our collection.
I have come across many in my years of collecting with two among the more interesting.
Long before the days of the internet I subscribed to the catalogs of the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house in New York City as they occasionally ran Americana sales which included newspapers. One sale offered an issue of the SOUTH CAROLINA GAZETTE from August of 1776. Trying to assemble one newspaper of all thirteen colonies from the Revolutionary War, this would be a new addition to that set. The lengthy catalog description noted some war skirmishes but nothing significant. But that was not a concern to me as I was only seeking a title from that colony from during the war, and the date of 1776 made it that much better. I placed my bid and was excited to learn I won the issue.
Several weeks later the issue arrived. In preparing it for my collection I casually looked over the content, and you can imagine my shock upon finding on page 2 a complete printing of the Declaration of Independence! I couldn’t imagine the incompetence of the cataloger–employed by Sotheby’s no less–who missed this report.
Not many years ago we purchased the newspaper holding of a public library in Massachusetts which includes a lengthy run of a Springfield newspaper, in fact two truckloads of volumes ranging from the mid-1800’s thru the latter part of the 20th century. Knowing the wealth of historical material which could be culled from this collection we put our attention to those events for several months upon its return to our  office & warehouse in Williamsport. Some time later we realized that the sport of basketball was founded in Springfield. Could we be so fortunate to to find a report off the very first game every played? Did the local newspaper even report what is now an extremely significant event in the history of basketball?
Indeed they did. The Springfield Republican, March 12, 1892  issue reported somewhat inconspicuously on page 6 an event headed “Basket Football Game” played the day before (which we now recognize as the first public basketball game), with mention of James Naismith who is recognized as the founder of the sport. It was a thrill to find the report which languished for over 100 years, unbeknown to anyone, in the back shelves of a library. Curiously the curator of the Basketball Hall of Fame didn’t appreciate its significance, however the Smithsonian Institution did as it now is part of their collection.
What historical gems have you discovered serendipitously in issues purchased for another reason, or as part of a collection where nothing special was expected? Feel free to share your stories with other collectors!