Every now and then, while browsing through rare and early newspapers, an article is discovered which causes one to take a second look – or 2nd read. Such is the case with a report in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune of January 30, 1855. As I was scanning through slavery and Mormon related coverage, I discovered an inside report which described how Ecuador tricked the United States into signing a treaty in which the U.S. would provide protection for Ecuador’s ports and the Galapagos Islands (owned by them) in exchange for access to the supposed endless supply (by the ton) of guano on the Galapagos Islands. Apparently, Ecuador had produced samples of highly potent bird and bat dung which motivated the U.S. to sign the treaty. Later, upon investigation, it was found out that the tons upon tons of guano was simply a pile of hooey – that is, nowhere to be found – but the treaty had already been signed. Who signs such an agreement sight unseen? I must admit, the nature of the agreement stirs all of the middle-school boy sarcasm which I thought I had long-since put to rest. However, such is not the case. He’s in there.
As is true with any historical event or founding of an institution, collectors of historical newspapers strive for the earliest reports possible. The Declaration of Independence first appeared in a newspaper on July 6, 1776, and that issue commands a six figure price much higher than printings of the document in other newspapers of later dates (such as the British Gentleman’s Magazine from August, 1776). Battle reports from the Revolutionary War are most coveted when in newspapers dated as close to the battle as possible. With the widespread use of the telegraph just before the Civil War, timeliness became less of an issue, as events would typically be found in the next day’s edition of newspapers regardless of how distance the printing press was from the event.
With institutions, societies & organizations the collector strives for the earliest reports on their creation. Reports from the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the creation of military academy at West Point, the first baseball game mention, are just a few examples of icons of present-day societies which collectors like to find in newspaper reports dated as early as possible.
Such is true with development of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormons. Formally organized in upstate New York in 1829 accounts from that year or 1830 would rank among the most desired. Our earliest account was found in the ‘Christian Intelligencer” issue of February 4, 1831. As was typical with reporting of the day, bias, discrimination and prejudice were rampant within the newspaper pages, with the publisher’s mind-set not encumbered by political correctness. This early report notes that: “…the career of some fanatical individuals, who pretend to work miracles and to preach a new gospel. They profess to have discovered somewhere in New York a new revelation, hidden under a stone, which enables them to work miracles…a delusion and phrenzy with which these individual have wrought up the public mind…something like 500 adherents who follow those ignorant and deluded men with the same submission that sheep are led to slaughter…”. This intriguing report was likely the first its subscribers learned of this new religious movement,and with a current membership of over 14 million, this report dates to when just 500 were followers.
A slightly later report in the popular ‘Niles’ Weekly Register‘ newspaper from Baltimore, July 16, 1831, shows a similar bias & prejudice: “…that certain knaves, pretending to have found some holy writings hidden under a stone…started a new religion! The leaders make bold pretensions and assert a gift to work miracles…now said to amount to 1,000 souls…some of whom…no doubt believe in all things that are told them…” and more.
Newspaper accounts found in the 1831-1835 period were very few and remain among the most desired among collectors.
By the time the leader Joseph Smith and the Mormons moved from Kirtland, Ohio, to Missouri and then Nauvoo, Illinois by 1839, reports in newspapers became more numerous, as their travels were often made dangerous by the suspicious locals who didn’t want them in their vicinity.
An interesting and desired collection of Mormon-related newspapers would include period reports of their movement westward, from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and ultimately to their own state of “Deseret” in the present-day state of Utah. With their arrival in 1847, Utah was not only not a state, it was not even a territorial possession. It was part of Mexico, but with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which ended the Mexican War in 1848, it became a territory of the United States, and the disputes between the Mormons and the federal government would be legendary, the Mountain Meadows Massacre being among the most publicized. In additional to federal battles, disputes within their organization were quick to make the newspapers, and the practice of plural marriage did not set well with the typical Judeo-Christian ethic of the day.
Typical of religious movements of the 19th century, the Mormons published several of their own periodicals, among the earliest and occasionally available being ‘Times & Seasons’ done during their turbulent stay in Nauvoo, Illinois. Within its pages was the report of the killing of founder and leader Joseph Smith. Other titles which occasionally surface for collectors are ‘The Latter-Day Saints’ ‘Millennial Star‘, the ‘Gospel Reflector’, and some three years after their arrival at Salt Lake City they set up the ‘Deseret News‘ in 1850, which was the first first newspaper to be published in present-day Utah, some 46 years before it would become a state.
The fascinating and troublesome history of the Mormons and their trek across the frontier of America is now part & parcel of American history. Finding reports in newspapers from when they happened makes for an interesting segment of any rare newspaper collection.
Few eras in the broad range of American history have the appeal as that of the “Wild West“, a romanticized period following the end of the Civil War thru the end of the 19th century. It was a time when America was healing from the wounds of war and the adventurous were pushing the American boundary further West. It was the 1849 California Gold Rush which sparked interest. Now with the war over, new adventures were sought by many.
Those of the Baby Boom generation grew up on western movies and cowboy & Indian television shows. Even Disney’s hugely popular Mickey Mouse Club and the newly minted Disneyland had the Wild West as a popular theme. What we remember are battles with Native Americans, saloon brawls, gunfights, and a multitude of other events which seem to define the era. And to the delight of collectors, all are found in newspapers from the Old West.
Geographically our “Old West” definition would be any from west of the Mississippi. Some 25 years ago we were fortunate enough to purchase a sizable collection of Old West newspapers which were deaccessioned from the Bancroft Library, including many titles which existed only there, then only in our inventory. With some regret many have long since sold out, but most remain available.
Ways of collecting this era are many. Some might pursue one of as many different titles as are available. Content is a lesser concern; they just want one of everything. Some might collect one from every state from before the 20th century. Many states would be easily found but others can be challenging, particularly Arizona, New Mexico & perhaps Idaho. Others might be more specific and collect only titles from before statehood, typically known as “territorial newspapers” (note: Arizona & New Mexico joined the Union in 1912 so early 20th century issues are “territorial”). Again, many can be easily found while others are more of a challenge. California became a state in 1850 (interesting how quickly Congress can act when a pile of gold is found in the backyard) and the number of titles which existed in the Golden State before 1850 were very few. For the best of collections, finding an early issue of the first newspaper to publish in each state can be a special challenge. But of course this is the fun of collecting.
Then there is a larger segment of collectors who pursue content, whether it be the iconic events of the Old West such as Custer‘s Massacre, Killing of Jesse James, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, capture of Sitting Bull, or just mundane reports of iconic events such as skirmishes with Indians, barroom brawls, bank & railroad robberies, and general reports of lawlessness. Yes, they are all found in Western newspapers of the day, and the search can be exciting.
As a subset of an Old West collection is Mormon content, as the story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is part & parcel of the westward expansion. Many titles from Salt Lake City are available and contain a wealth of Mormon content from shortly after their settlement in Utah. Another subset might be popular Western towns. Yes, 19th century newspapers are available from Tombstone, Sacramento, Deadwood City, Tucson, Albuquerque, San Francisco, Laramie, Reno, Los Angeles, San Diego, Leavenworth, and on and on. Of special intrigue is finding newspapers from ghost towns. Bodie, California is a great example of a once booming mining town which is currently a California State Park and popular ghost town attraction. Many of our titles from Northern California are from towns which are today a fraction of their size in the 19th century.
The world of Old West collecting is endless, and to the surprise of many prices for most newspapers of the era are unexpectedly low. Explore this interesting era of American history and discover a new facet of collecting!
The Mormons created a great migration to the West in 1847 as 2000 Mormons crossed the western plains seeking a location in which they could follow undisturbed the precepts of their religion. The first party reached the Salt Lake valley on July 24, 1847, and among the items they brought were implements, seeds, cattle, sheep, hogs, chickens, and a printing outfit purchased in Philadelphia.
At the time the area was owned by Mexico, but with the treaty of 1848 ending the Mexican ar ownership passed to the United States. With no steps taken by federal authorities to establish a system of government for it, the Mormons took matters into their own hands and in 1849 organized the “State of Deseret” (land of the honey bee) with Brigham Young as governor.
The very first issue of the “Deseret News” was printed on June 15, 1850 with Brigham Young noted as the publisher and Horace Whitney, who had printing experience at the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois, listed as the printer. This newspaper continued for just over a year when it was suspended for 3 months due to lack of paper. It began as a weekly but four months later became a semi-monthly until 1854 when it again became a weekly. It eventually became a daily on Nov. 21, 1867. A sample of a volume 1 issues may be found at: Deseret News, August 17, 1850
It was in late 1858 when Kirk Anderson started the “Valley Tan” in Salt Lake City, lasting for just over a year. The “Mountaineer” was started on Aug. 27, 1859 and “Farmer’s Oracle” was a semi-monthly which began on May 22, 1863, both of which lasted for less than two years. A military newspaper titled the “Union Vidette” began on Nov. 20, 1863, done by soldiers stationed at Camp Douglass, a military post near Salt Lake City.
Various patent medicine advertisements were all the rage in the late 19th century, and it seems they were more prevalent in Western rather than Eastern newspapers. This one (below) appears in the July 7, 1880 issue of “The Deseret News” from Salt Lake City: