The top ten: “20th century”…

December 28, 2009 by  
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From this period in newspaper publishing history, displayability has much to do with the desirability of a newspaper, perhaps more so than historical significance. Since I come to this task of listing the “top ten” from the perspective of a rare newspaper dealer and knowing the requests we receive for certain events, the following list may not be the same as my most “historic” but they are my thoughts for the most “desirable” based on customer demand. Certainly FDR’s New Deal is more historically significant than the death of Bonnie & Clyde, but not more desirable from a collector standpoint. I’d be curious to hear of your thoughts.

Bonnie&ClydegifHere they are, beginning with number ten:

10) St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Feb. 14, 1929  An issue with a dramatic banner headline, & ideally dated the 14th. Morning papers would be dated the 15th.

9) Death of Bonnie & Clyde, May 23, 1934  The gangster era remains much in demand, & perhaps due to the movie this event beats out Dillinger, Capone & the others from the era. A dramatic headline drives desirability–ideally with a photo–even if not in a Louisiana newspaper.

8.) Charles Lindbergh flies the Atlantic, May 22, 1927  The New York Times had a nice headline account with a map of the route, and the prestige of the newspaper always keeps it in high demand.

Dewey_Defeats_Truman7) Call-Chronicle-Examiner, San Francisco, April 19, 1906  I note a specific title & date for this event, as these 3 newspapers combined to produce one 4 page newspaper filled with banner heads & the latest news. No advertisements.

6) Crash of the Hindenberg, May 6, 1937  The more dramatic the headline the better, & ideally with the Pulitizer Prize winning photo of the airship in flames.

5) Wright brothers fly, Dec. 17, 1903  Here’s where the significance of the event drives desirability over dramatic appeal. Few can argue the impact of manned flight on the world. Reports were typically brief & buried on an inside page with a small headline, so a lengthy front page report would be in top demand.

4) Stock market crash, October, 1929  Demand is driven by the dramatic headline and its wording. Too many newspapers tried to put an optimistic spin on the tragedy. Collectors want “collapse, disaster, crash” & similarly tragic words in the headline (how about Variety magazine’s: “Wall Street Lays On Egg”?)

Pearl_Harbor_HSB_1_extra3) Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Dec. 7, 1941  “1st Extra”  The defining issue from World War II but be careful of reprints as most issues on the market are not genuine.

2) Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 3, 1948 “Dewey Defeats Truman”. What more need be said?

1) Titanic sinking, April 14, 1912  Certainly low on the historically significant list, but off the charts on the desirability scale, much due to the block-busting movie. The more dramatic the headline the better, and hopefully with a nice illustration of the ship going down.

My “honorable mention” list might include baseball’s “Black Sox” scandal of 1919, sinking of the Lusitania, end of World War II, D-Day, JFK’s election, the New Deal, a great Babe Ruth issue, etc. Maybe they would rank higher on your list.

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9 Responses to “The top ten: “20th century”…”

  1. Charles Signer on December 30th, 2009 12:32 pm

    This is a good list. Since the press was so well developed in the 20th century and there were so many newsworthy events, perhaps it would be better to have a top ten list for each decade of that century.

    I would place the two most coveted papers as the November 3, 1948 Chicago Tribune and the December 7, 1941 First Extra Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The former is important in itself because of the photo of Truman holding it, while the latter is a true souvenir of the Pearl Harbor attack.

    The Titanic sinking occurred after modern telecommunications had started to develop, and the event happened at sea, so it didn’t matter so much what paper reported it. There were great Titanic reports from Chicago, Denver and San Francisco papers. I am amazed how much high quality reporting was generated within 24 hours of the first report, considering it was 1912. Eric Caren and Steve Goldman filled an entire 160-page volume of Titanic reports in a book called “Extra- Titanic”. The Titanic sinking was considered a major event when it happened and remained so even before movies were made about it.

    Bonnie and Clyde, on the other hand, were long forgotten until the 1967 movie about them, while Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre were famous and remained that way before any movie was made about them. I think Dillinger was also much better known. Bonnie and Clyde’s killing is not unlike the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which was just an obscure one paragraph report until a movie was made about it.

    The stock market crash of 1929 was really only a temporary phenomenon. The optimistic headlines of the time were warranted, since the Dow Jones Industrial Average did improve in 1930 reaching about 75% of its previous 1929 peak. Many of us with eighty years of hindsight look back at October 1929 as a pivotal time not realizing that the real damage was done by a much deeper plunge in 1931-2. Reading the business journals of the early ‘30’s is so much like watching the news today.

    Without doubt the number one news event of the 1920’s was Lindbergh’s flight to Paris. Some of the greatest headlines of the 20th century occurred then.

    The Wright Brother’s first flight in 1903 was probably the most important event on the list. After all, Lindbergh’s flight and the Pearl Harbor air raid might not have happened without that first flight. Yes, it’s hard to get the story on a front page from that time. I think most editors were skeptical about what seemed to be just another hoax. They wanted to report it in a way that they could get credit for reporting it while not getting too deep into it lest it turned out to be false. That’s why it usually ended up on page 16.

  2. Paul Sarna on January 11th, 2010 10:57 pm

    Great list.
    I can understand why all of these newspapers are in the 1st half of the 20th century with the latter half being much more common and available. I’m curious what you might think would be the top ten issues from the 2nd half of the 20th century. Historic events need enough time to elapse to judge their staying power and you have to weigh if some of the events are just newsworthy or really historically significant.
    Any 20th century list can become pretty difficult…one could just take the topic of “sports” and quickly get their mind cluttered with events!

  3. Paul Sarna on February 6th, 2010 11:47 pm

    I’ve decided to submit my “Top-Ten Sports Events of the 20th Century” list.

    I am well aware that this list leaves plenty of room for argument and modification.
    My list does not include the 1919 Black Sox Scandal which was drawn out over a few years, but the list focuses more on specific daily sports and sports-related events captured in newspapers.

    Being originally from New York, the list might seem to have too many “New York Daily News” in it, but they provided some great front page sports headlines and accompanying pictures.

    1. 1955 World Series – “Who’s a Bum!”- NY Daily News – with a caricature of the Brooklyn Dodger mascot, which was (believe it or not) a hobo. The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series after several disappointing loses.

    2. Super Bowl I (Jan. 1967) Probably the only sports events to be shown live by 2 networks (CBS and NBC). Incredibly, this historic game, at the LA Coliseum, was played in a stadium that was 1/3 empty!

    3. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling (June 1938) Louis avenges his only defeat (up till that time) and slows down the Nazi propaganda machine with a spectacular 1st round knockout.

    4. Death of Roberto Clemente – (Jan. 1973) “Air Crash Kills Bucs Clemente” – NY Daily News. Clemente, one of the all-time great baseball players is killed trying to help victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua. An incredibly sad event.
    2 asides…Clemente’s last hit in the major league’s was his 3000th. Also the Daily News used a very similar headline when Yankees great Thurmon Munson was killed: “Air Crash Kills Yanks Munson”.

    5. First Indianapolis 500 – (May 1911) – An event that was actually captured pretty well by newspapers around the country at the time.
    The Indianapolis 500 is an event that had Eddie Rickenbacker as a driver BEFORE World War I and even to this day has largest attendance for a single day sports event in the world.

    6. Super Bowl III (Jan. 1969) The New York Jets and the AFL upset the Baltimore Colts and the NFL. With the merger between the 2 league approaching, the AFL was still considered the inferior league until Joe Namath led the Jets to a huge upset win. (besides I’m a Jets and Joe Namath fan….do you think I would leave it off my list?)

    7. Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney (Sept. 1927) The infamous “Long Count” fight held in front of over 100,000 fans in Chicago. An event that created a hugh stir in newspapers for several days.

    8. Don Larsen throws a perfect game in the 1956 World Series. The Daily News with the headline “Zero Hero!” with a memorable photo of Larsen throwing the final pitch with the hugh scoreboard in the background showing how he shutdown the Brookyln Dodgers.

    9. Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston (Feb. 1964) I’ve seen some pretty good coverage in newspapers of this event as the Muhammad Ali era is born with this hugh upset win.

    10. United States hockey team beats the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics – (Feb. 1980)
    A hugh sporting victory during the Cold War for the United States underscored by the fact that the same US team lost an exhibition game to the Soviets a week prior to the start of the Olympics by the score of 10 to 3. A very memorable and surprising sports event.

    Well there it is…warts and all. If anybody wants to give me their opinion or point out an event that I might have missed, I’d like to hear it.

    I’m sorry there’s not more on my list from sporting events outside the United States…I’m sure someone from England would have the 1966 World Cup on their list or someone from Scotland have Jimmy Clark winning the 1965 Indianapolis 500 on their’s.

    I hope to hear from anyone,

    Paul Sarna

  4. Tim Hughes on March 22nd, 2010 12:25 pm

    Charles – Thanks much for your insightful comments!
    Tim Hughes

  5. Morris on April 1st, 2010 11:50 pm

    Here is my list of the most historic events on the latter part of the Twentieth Century.

    Russ. Launch First Satellite Up 585 MI. (The beginning of the Space Age)

    Spaceman survived Orbit Say Russians (First man in space. Mankind breaks the bounds of earth.) 1957

    Man Walks On Moon (Mankind becomes an extraterrestrial being) 1969

    Nixon Resigns (First time in America History a President resigns) 1974

    Saigon Surrenders 1975 (End of Viet Nam War. Longest war in Am. history. Am. Deaths of 58,000 exceeded only by the Civil War, WWl and WWll)

    Soviets Send SOS On Nuke Fire 1986 (First and only, so far, accidental nuclear disaster)

    Berlin Wall Falls 1989 (The beginning of the end of Soviet Russia)

    Gorbachev Ends Rule Of Communist Party 1991 The end of the Soviet Union

    Clinton Impeached 1998 (Only the 2nd time in American history a president is impeached)

    U. S. ATTACKED, 2001 (9/11 – The start of a new era of war and terrorism)

  6. Jon Aquino on October 27th, 2013 8:43 am

    Here’s what I think are the top 10 newspaper headlines of the 20th Century (in chronological order):

    01. Sinking of the Titanic (1912)
    02. Sinking of the Lusitania (1915)
    03. Armistice Signing/End of World War I (1918)
    04. Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic (1927)
    05. Hitler’s invasion of Poland/Start of World War II (1939)
    06. Attack on Pearl Harbor (1941)
    07. Atomic bombing of Japan/End of World War II (1945)
    08. JFK Assassination (1963)
    09. Apollo 11 Moon Landing (1969)
    10. Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster (1986)

  7. Jim Lyons on May 1st, 2014 10:05 pm

    For years I listed the Apollo Moon Landing newspapers in my catalogs as, “The most important event in the history of mankind”, and I still believe it. Thousands of years from now, when all other 20th century events have been forgotten, the first time men landed on the moon will be remembered.

  8. Jim Lyons on May 1st, 2014 10:40 pm

    Correction to above: What I said in my catalogs was:

    “The most important event in the recorded history of mankind (religious considerations aside)”.

  9. GuyHeilenman on May 5th, 2014 2:15 pm

    Hello Jim – It is great to hear from you. This distinction is quite noteworthy. Thanks for the initial post… and corresponding update.

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