Collectible 1600s & 1700s Newspapers
“History is never more fascinating than when it’s read from the day it was first reported.”
It might not be your first thought, but newspapers from the 1600s and 1700s are very similar content-wise to modern newspapers. Early newspapers contained reports on wars, natural disasters, listed items for sale, and published death notices. Sound familiar? Newspaper content hasn’t changed drastically in 300-plus years. It is interesting to read accounts from this era and realize how similar we modern folk are to our ancestors. It seems that people at their core are mostly the same, and to this day, want to read news covering similar topics. That being said, some aspects of newspapers definitely have changed.
What has changed are the dimensions (smaller then, larger now), the number of pages (fewer then), paper quality (higher quality rag linen then), and the format. Newspapers of this period typically had an inflexible format, meaning that if page three was dedicated to foreign news, even if the most amazing foreign event occurred, it would appear on page three, not page one—period.
Due to the time it would take to typeset and print an issue, breaking news of major events would often be printed on a separate sheet called an “Extra” or an “Extraordinary” that was delivered with the daily issue or sometimes was not distributed until the following day.
Much more can be said regarding newspapers from the 1600’s and 1700’s, but for now, please enjoy the Rare Newspapers dedicated page dedicated to original and historic issues from this era:
Today I traveled to Edinburgh by the way of The Edinburgh Advertiser dated December 20, 1765. There I found an account of a New Hamsphire stamp agent by the name of George Meserve being forced to resign for the second time. “…that Mr. Messerve, notwithstanding his late verbal resignation, determined to execute his office…about 400 resolute men, well equipped…Their purpose was to demand of Mr. Messerve a more explicit resignation…the repeated assurances from the Council, that the bale of stamped paper should not be opened…that they would never use them on any account, disarmed the populace of all their resentment…The stamped papers sent for the use of this province are lodged in the fort at Newcastle where they are to remain as a dead inactive lump of matter…”
I would argue that beyond the Civil War, the era of American history which evokes the most interest among our collectors is unquestionably the Revolutionary War. With a cast of characters who still rank among the most memorable in history—Washington, Adams, Hancock, Jefferson, Henry, Franklin, Paine, and more—and a plot, which if it were not true history would serve as an excellent screenplay for an exciting movie—an oppressed, energized people seek to break free from the reigns of oppression and dominance from abroad—it is easy to see how the events of the Revolutionary War continue to intrigue and offer a foundation upon which to reflect as today’s world grapples with many of the same issues despite the 230+ years which distance us from those notable events.
And what could be better than experiencing those events just as those who lived through them? Newspapers offer that opportunity. Genuine issues, once held and read by those who lived through those turbulent days before being relegated to the back shelves of libraries, are now part of the inventory of Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers. And at prices which might surprise many (see Revolutionary War issues for $60 and under), as a hobby which is relatively unknown to the collecting world has yet to cause demand and scarcity to drive prices beyond the means of the average collector. Of course, there are still many that fall into the category of what we refer to as, “The Best of the Best – Revolutionary War Edition“.
Of significance is that British titles, which offer excellent coverage of all American events given their role in attempting to placate the demands of the Americans while maintaining control of their colonies, allow ownership of battle reports of the war for under $100, with some very notable events in the $200-$300 range. American newspapers remain among the most desired but their scarcity is reflected in their prices. With a collection of the “Pennsylvania Evening Post” which included the Declaration of Independence bringing $600,000 in auction recently, it would amaze many that the same document is available in London’s “Gentleman’s Magazine” issue of August, 1776 (took news 3-4 weeks to traverse the Atlantic) for under $4,000. Other disproportionate prices between British and American newspapers entice many to gravitate to the British titles while prices and availability remain attractive.
The “London Chronicle” is one of the better British titles in reporting the Revolutionary War. From the Battle of Lexington and Concord, to Bunker Hill, Battle of New York, Saratoga, Washington crossing the Delaware, treason of Benedict Arnold, Guilford Court House, to Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, this newspaper offers coverage which equals the American newspaper accounts. In fact many British reports were taken verbatim from American newspapers. Of equal quality in report news of the day was the “Edinburgh Evening Courant” from Scotland as I have found all events of the Revolutionary War to be reported in this title as well. Other UK titles which covered the war include “The Glocester Journal”, “Aris’s Birmingham Gazette”, the “Edinburgh Advertiser” and the “Glasgow Mercury” to name a few.
But perhaps the best and most available title of the Revolutionary War period would be the “Gentleman’s Magazine” from London, it having a long printing history from 1731 to the 20th century so it encompasses not just the Revolutionary War in great detail by the entire scope of American history. As an added treat this title typically included one of more plates within each issue, which included maps as well. And during the years of the Revolutionary War were found many maps of American colonies, battle sites as well as large foldout maps showing the entire scope of the united colonies at that time. The maps alone have found a keen interest among collectors, separate from the issues in which they were stored for over 200 years. As is true with the British titles mentioned, “Gentleman’s” included all notable events and documents, including the Articles of Confederation, the Causes and Necessity For Taking Up Arms, all major battles of the war thru the treaty between Washington and Cornwallis, and even the document by King George III which officially ended the war. And all the major names of the war from both the British and American sides have found their way into the pages of “Gentleman’s Magazine”.
American titles are available as well. Some of the more rare would be those from the South which are virtually impossible to find, and when they do surface their prices are beyond the means of most collectors. Some of the more commonly found titles would be the “Pennsylvania Evening Post” from Philadelphia, the “Pennsylvania Ledger” “Boston Gazette” (which featured an engraving by Paul Revere in the masthead), “The Pennsylvania Gazette” and “Pennsylvania Packet” among others. And dipping back a few years before the outbreak of the war, when tensions were building with much evidence in the newspapers of the day, the “Pennsylvania Chronicle” and the “Boston Chronicle” offer excellent insight into events of the day from the years 1767-1769 for under $200 for most issues.
Regardless of your interest in the Revolutionary War, whether it be the famous names that came to prominence, the battles of the war, or a focus on a singular event or locality, genuine newspapers of the day are available for the collector. It is a hobby with limitless possibilities, and offers a unique opportunity to literally hold history in your hands.
A genuine collectible, over 300 years old, for $60 or less. Is there a field of collecting today which has items of such age– in nice condition–for $60? The hobby of collecting rare & historic newspapers likely sits at the top of what must be a very short list. And such prices, along with tremendous availability of titles & content, are part of the intrigue of this fascinating hobby which remains unknown to almost everyone. And this, in large part, is the reason prices are outrageously low in comparison to the relative rarity of other collectibles. While issues do run the gamut price-wise from newsbooks (at the upper end) to coffeehouse newspapers (typically at the lower end), it is a fascinating field for the historical hobbyist on a budget ($20 and under).
The ‘London Gazette‘ is the world’s oldest continually published newspaper, having begun in 1665 and is still publishing today. With such historical depth you would expect to find virtually every major event in world history within its pages, and you would be right. The Great Plague and Great London Fire, William Penn being granted land in the New World, the death of noted pirate Captain Kidd, the battles of the French & Indian War and Revolutionary War and so much more are found in not only this title but other newspapers of the era. First reports of such notable events can sell in the thousands of dollars, but an interesting facet of this hobby is that follow-up reports of a few days later can fall well within the comfort level of the average collector.
Both age and graphic appeal come together in the London ‘Post-Boy‘ newspaper, with issues from the 1718-1725 period featuring two ornate engravings in the masthead in addition to a very decorative first letter of the text. Add to this the relative small size of this single sheet newspaper and you have a terrific item for display for under $55.
With American newspapers not beginning until the first decade of the 18th century (one title was published in 1690 but lasted just one day), and most American newspapers through the Revolutionary War being very rare, British titles are an excellent source for collecting all the notable events not only in American history, but in world history as well. And the reporting was often extensive, for remember that the colonies were part of Great Britain through 1776.
The ‘London Chronicle’ was a popular British newspaper which documented amongst its pages virtually all American events since its founding during the French & Indian War. Yet another periodical, the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine‘, is an excellent source for period reports of American events since its beginning in 1731, and one of its features was the printing of maps of all corners of the globe, many of which show North America and specific colonies. From James Oglethorpe’s settling the colony of Georgia, to Ben Franklin‘s famous kite experiment, installation of the Liberty Bell, the enactment & repeal of the hated Stamp Act, all events of the Revolutionary War, to the mutiny on the Bounty & so much more, the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ offers a terrific repository of American and world history at very affordable prices. Plus, there are reports of Colonel George Washington from 1754 when he was just 22 years old and relatively unknown, and for the music buffs there are works by the composers Hayden, Handel, and death reports of Mozart and Beethoven within its pages. The early battles of Napoleon & other European reports are logically found in this title as well.
While American newspapers of the Revolutionary War and before are generally pricey, ranging in the $400 – $1000+ range, two notable exceptions exist being the ‘Boston Chronicle’ and the ‘Pennsylvania Chronicle’, both from the 1768-1769 years. Because their circulation was widespread they are among the more commonly held colonial titles by institutions, & consequently come on the market when libraries convert from hard copy to microfilm or digital. They detail the entire spectrum of American life from just before the Revolutionary War while providing an interesting perspective on American politics during those critical years. Complete, genuine issues are typically available for under $200.
American newspapers from after the American Revolution become more available and at dramatically lower prices while still containing a wealth of notable content on the founding years of the federal government. The ‘Pennsylvania Packet’ of Philadelphia was one of the more successful titles, and was the very first to print the Constitution of the United States. While that issue, September 19, 1787, ranks well into six figures, dates surrounding it are typically found in the $45 – $80 range and offer a perspective of life in the city where and when the Constitution was being created. The ‘Columbian Centinel’ from Boston was perhaps the most successful title in 18th century America and its pages document the complete scope of America politics and life from 1785 thru Washington’s election and inauguration to his death just weeks before the end of the century.
Other 18th century American titles which are within the budgets of even the most modest collectors are the ‘Connecticut Courant’, ‘Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser’, ‘Gazette of the United States’, the ‘Massachusetts Spy’, and ‘The Herald, A Gazette For The Country’ and others. Nice issues from the formative years of the federal government can be had for under $50 each.
While first reports of the most historic events of the 17th and 18th centuries will always command top dollar among the most savvy of collectors, the hobby of collecting rare newspapers offers a tremendous wealth of issues at surprisingly low prices, while at the same time offering fascinating content on life only known to others through history books. And this hobby is one that offers the entire spectrum of political, economic, and social history to every collector. What other hobby can make that claim? But perhaps most importantly, this hobby let’s you hold—quite literally—history in your hands.
The following is a 2nd look at a post from a few years ago. We’ve updated the images to make the text easier to read. Please enjoy.
Although much has been written about Patrick Henry, a December 18, 1840 issue of the Citizen Soldier, Vermont, gives us a glimpse as to how he was viewed within less than 50 years of his death. The end of the biography has a few extra treats as well. Although quite lengthy… it is certainly worth the read:
As of April 15, 2011, the historic Freedom Trail welcomed Boston area’s 1st authentic colonial era print shop, The Printing Office of Edes & Gill. While visiting, patrons will have the opportunity to engage living historians working their printers trade in pre-revolutionary Boston. These same printers were at the vanguard of citizen angst over British governmental policies that Bostonians felt violated their rights as Englishmen. They offer unique personal encounters with history and colonial printing. If you have the opportunity to visit Boston, make sure to pay a visit to this great new addition, located along the Freedom Trail at the historic Clough House, which is owned by and conveniently located adjacent to Old North Church. While there, look for a few Rare & Early Newspapers from our archives. In the meantime, enjoy their new website: The Printing Office of Edes & Gill
Over the past two weeks Timothy Hughes has explored his thoughts on what he believes to be the top ten pre-18th century and the top ten 18th century newspapers (see below). Some of these thoughts were captured in the following video:
Collecting authentic rare and historic newspapers from the 1500’s – 1700’s can be exciting, rewarding and surprisingly affordable. British titles such as the London Gazette, London Chronicle, Gentleman’s Magazine and more, are all available for much less than you would expect, as are their American counterparts, the Columbian Centinel, Dunlap’s Daily American Advertiser, Concord Herald, and more.
Whether your interest is in the Colonial Era or the Revolutionary War Era, or extends to the 1500’s and/or 1600’s, original newspapers provide an excellent view of history in context. History is never more fascinating than when when it’s read from the day it was first reported. If you love history… you deserve to have it in your hands. Rare and early historic newspapers make this possible. Please enjoy the hobby!