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.
Stepping beyond the hobbyists who collect newspapers specifically, one collector which has become a mainstay of our business has been the person looking for a newspaper report relating to their own hobby. For example, antique car collectors have purchased Detroit newspapers featuring advertisements when a specific model they own was first introduced. Imagine owning a 1964 mustang and the thrill in finding a Detroit newspaper with an ad announcing the car–what a perfect companion piece for a car buff!
Coin collectors have often come to us with specific dates of when new coin designs were created, and it was not uncommon for detailed reports to be found in period newspapers. Whether it was the introduction of the Morgan silver dollar, the Barber nickel, dime, quarter or half dollar–or any of the 100’s of designs produced by the United States mint since 1792–collectors of those coins have cherished newspaper accounts of those new designs as a way of enriching their collection and enhancing the appeal of significant coins they cherish as collectors.
One example which comes to mind is the copper-nickel flying eagle penny introduced in 1857 (a small number of “pattern” coins exist from 1856), which was a dramatic departure from the much larger, all copper “large cents” of the previous decades. Its introduction was announced in the February 7, 1857 issue of Harper’s Weekly, actually a few weeks before the formal Act of February 21, 1857 which authorized the coin’s creation. The report even includes images of both the obverse & reverse of the coin.
The report is very intriguing. Included is: “…Provided the act of Congress, which establishes the new cent, becomes a law, which it has not as yet, we think the public will be a gainer by the new coin. Its smaller size makes it much more convenient for handling…” and “…We will lose an American proverb, now widely circulated, by the issue of the new coin. ‘He’s not worth a red cent’ will be of such general application that it will not have any specific meaning & will be of course dropped, for the new cent is not red, being of a gray, silvery aspect.” with more.
The field is wide open for “crossover” collectibles. Virtually any collectible produced in the last 300 years may well have a newspaper account of its creation or development. The thrill of the search is in finding it!
Are you aware of newspaper reports which relate to other collectibles you have? Feel free to share.