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Sharing My Story… How I got started…

Tim Hughes, founder

Tim Hughes, founder

Invariably there is the quizzical stare I get from anyone who asks “what do you do?” and I answer by saying, “I sell old newspapers.” The typical response is, “…what??” Any follow-up to the inquiry usually leads to, “How did you get started?”

We all have our own stories of what lead us to early newspapers, and mine may not but much different from yours.

I have always collecting something. I guess I was always intrigued by what was old, and coin collecting captured my interest when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, a hobby which still gets my attention but on a dramatically smaller scale. Collecting coins lead to old books, which lead to old bottles, which lead to old radios; and perhaps a few other items which struck my interest through the years.

I eventually found coin collecting a bit frustrating, as the rarities I needed to fill some holes in my collection were way beyond my budget. Coin collecting has always been a well exploited hobby so rare items were almost impossible to find at reasonable prices as the “heavy hitters” kept the prices quite high. I always dreamed of finding a collectible which few people knew about, where truly rare & historic items could be found at reasonable prices.

One day while browsing a local flea market I cam across an 1846 Philadelphia newspaper for $3. I was intrigued. I knew an 1846 coin in nice condition would be ten times that amount. I bought it, took it home and read all four pages and was fascinated by the content. I had found my new collectible and was hoping my dream had come true.

I expended much effort over the next several years looking for more newspapers and found several sources for 18th & 19th century issues at what I thought were amazingly low prices given my coin collecting experience.

Then one day I asked a source from whom I had been buying issues for $3 each if I could get a better price if I bought more than one. His response was fateful and set the course for the rest of my life: he said, “If you take 100 issues you can have them for $1 each”.

Although $100 was likely half of my net worth at the time, I sent the check, received my 100 issues, and starting advertising the issues for sale at $3 each (plus 25 cents for postage; which actually covered the cost).

As I sold the issues I bought more, and found more sources for different titles and different time periods. I eventually found several auction halls which regularly listed newspapers, and established contacts in England for early British material. In time I would travel not only throughout the Middle Atlantic & New England states but went to London each year to to search the back roads for antique & book shops which had material I could use.

Those were very exciting days, as material was plentiful and I bought voraciously.  Buying today is more of a challenge so I take great comfort in knowing my appetite some 30 years ago was justified as much of our inventory of over 2 million newspapers was purchased long ago.

Good material still comes our way. Having our name in the marketplace for over 30 years and maintaining considerable Internet presence has allowed much great material to end up at our doorstep, a trend which–hopefully–will continue as we allow my dream to be realized by our customers: rare, historic material at reasonable prices.

In the coming months we will be posting the stories of other collectors as well.  Details are forthcoming.

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1 Comment To "Sharing My Story… How I got started…"

#1 Comment By Rick Brown On 05/08/2009 @ 1:19 pm

In high school I was a weekend coin dealer. There were enough coin shows in my area that I did them 3 out of 4 Sundays a month. While a junior I was reading the classified ads in Popular Science. One ad offered a free catalog of old newspapers. I sent for it and when it arrived, I had a hard time deciding which newspaper to order. The catalog offered over 100 different issues. For no other reason than it was exactly 100 years old at the time (April 1865) I spent $3.50 and ordered the Philadelphia Inquirer for the capture and death of John Wilkes Booth. When it arrived I spent hours reading it. I was fascinated at how much coverage there was. The entire front page and many inside columns were devoted to the event. More importantly, there was extensive coverage by eye-witnesses. Today, we are lucky if the newspaper has much more than 200 words devoted to the coverage and only incomplete sentences by the eye-witnesses. This Philadelphia Inquirer must have had at least 10,000 words of eye-witness accounts. Somehow, this “humanized” the event for me and made history more interesting.

From that point I was hooked on old newspapers. I spent my weekends traveling to antiques stores as far away as 100 miles. (This was long before the Internet and Ebay.) I bought every old newspaper in sight. After a few short years I made two discoveries: I did not have enough money to buy them all, and living in an apartment, I had run out of storage room. I then decided to specialize and only keep the newspapers relating to the Lincoln assassination. Today I have over 300 different original newspapers about the assassination, capture and death of John Wilkes Booth, funerals, trial of the conspirators, and their hanging. While most are Union newspapers, I do have many Confederate issues too. I also have a broadside announcing a mock funeral for Lincoln to be held on April 29, 1865 and in Adrian, Michigan. At the time, the population of Adrian was fewer than 500 people!

Thus, in 1969, I became a historic newspaper dealer. My catalogs were printed on the old-fashioned mimeograph with purple ink. Again, this was long before quick printers and Xerox copies. In 1976, I quit being a historic newspaper dealer and concentrated on collecting Lincoln newspapers only.

In 1984 I started the Newspaper Collectors Society of America and published a magazine for newspaper collectors. In 1993 I “discovered” the Internet. In October of that same year, I opened a small library of articles from back issues of my magazine. Within 2 years, the site ( [1]) was receiving in excess of 5,000 page views per month. By the end of 1996 the site was receiving in excess of 50,000 page view per month. At this point, I could no longer justify publishing a magazine that was read by 300 people per issue. It was costing me $6,000 yearly to have my magazine printed and mailed. At the time, my Internet fees were less than $500 yearly. Thus, with the April 1997 issue of my magazine, Collectible Newspapers, I quite having it printed and mailed. From that point on, I concentrated my efforts to the Web version only. In 2003 the site was recognized as a nonprofit organization at both the state and federal level. Now, about 15 years later, HistoryBuff.com is receiving in excess of 500,000 page views monthly by over 85,000 unique visitors monthly. The site new has over 3 Giga-Bytes of files.

Rick Brown