Themes in collecting…

October 7, 2008 by  
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Perhaps the best aspect of collecting early newspapers is the endless ways one can collect. Although there are those who collect a great variety of dates, titles, or events, the opportunity to focus on a specific era or topic can provide an exciting collection which is much more diverse than one might guess.

Displayability and dramatic appeal are of interest to many, and the 1920 – 1945 era provides a tremendous opportunity for some “screaming” headlines typically not found prior to or after these dates. Within this era one can focus on various topics: politics, sports, economics, discoveries/inventions, and gangsters to name a few.

The gangster era intrigues many and some dramatic headlines can be found if one devotes the time to the search. Just one example from our private collection is the PALESTINE DAILY HERALD newspaper from Texas, dated May 23, 1934 which features a banner (from edge to edge) headline which reads just as a collector would want: “BARROW AND BONNIE PARKER RIDDLED WITH BULLETS”. And nice to have this report in a Texas newspaper as Bonnie & Clyde were killed near the Texas/Louisiana border. More typically this report was not much more than a column or two in most newspapers, and often found on an inside page rather than as a front page feature. Finding a banner headline can be very exciting. Banner headlines on Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, John Dillinger and the host of other notorious names from the gangster era surface upon occasion and become choice additions to the collections of those who appreciate their rarity.

What “theme” in collecting do you enjoy? Are you a “generalist” with newspapers crossing over the broad spectrum of dates, titles, and events, or have you been intrigued by focusing upon a much more narrow theme which others may not have thought of? We’d love to hear of your collecting interest….feel free to share your thoughts.  Note:  Please focus on themes rather than specific issues within your collection.

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3 Responses to “Themes in collecting…”

  1. Jim Wheeler on October 10th, 2008 11:30 pm

    Theme collecting is definitely what got me involved into the newspaper hobby. Initially I started with a sports theme, the Boston Red Sox as they won the World Series in 2004. At that time, I found a NY Times announcing the purchase of Babe Ruth by the NY Yankees. Then, I managed to win a Boston paper in my first experience with eBay that included an account of their 1918 World Series championship. It seemed that I had now documented the 1918 victory, the curse of the Bambino, and the stunning 2004 victories over the Yankees and Cards that “Reversed the Curse”. But I was missing 86 years of agony. So I searched for papers covering the 1946 Series, the 1967 “Dream Team”, the 75 series with the “Big Red Machine”, the Bucky Dent playoff loss to the Yankees, and Bill Buckner’s boot in ’86 to fill out my first theme collection.

    However, in the process of looking at other older papers, I soon found that the birth, evolution, and abolishment of slavery became a primary theme upon which I have since focused much attention. Beginning with papers from the early 1700s that describe the importation of slaves to North America through debates surrounding the constitutional convention and ratification, the growing problem and the differences in the northern and southern states becomes clear. Papers that include the results of the first three Census show the growth of the slave population as it is tabulated for the southern states as part of the 3/5 compromise. Then, events including the Missouri Compromise, abolitionist newspapers, and the Dred Scott Decision lead to Lincoln’s rise to prominence, his letters and thoughts leading to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fall of Richmond, and his assassination, followed by the 13th and 15th Amendments.

    Although I still continue to pursue these themes, I have also considered others such as the Cold War, Great Disasters, the Financial Market, and Political Assassinations. Does anyone else want to weigh in with their thoughts?

  2. Eric Caren on October 11th, 2008 8:40 pm


    While at first glance it might not seem that you have followed the thematic approach to collecting, take another look. You are simply interested in adding new themes to offer the excitement and learning experience associated with the search for and pursuant study of historical newspapers. There are collectors out there who simply buy anything that they find interesting and then there are those that stick to one or several themes. Still others combine thematic collecting with collecting anything that they come across that offers entertainment or educational opportunity. I am of the last variety and have been for 43 years. Never looked back and never questioned it and now I note that I really collect “How History Unfolds on Paper” Sounds like you may be embarking on a similar journey and I wish you luck with it and know that all of the paths that you mention can bring you to still more paths and to what end? is not what matters- it is the journey, so enjoy!

  3. Morris on October 12th, 2008 12:55 pm

    My newspaper collection can be boiled down to four categories.

    American History (Presidents, Wars, Treaties)

    Famous and Infamous people and events in America and the world

    Air and Space


    No sooner do I conclude that I have every significant news event in a category above then I undoubtedly realize “Oh, there is just one more paper I need to get.”

    And that is the pleasure of collecting newspapers. To discover there is still another paper, and yet another, and yet another that I need to add to my collection.

    So nearly everyday I review web sites searching to see if I have missed something. For instance, I thought I had the election of every president except for George Washington. Last week I discovered I did not have the election of President Pierce. What! Where the heck did he come from? I know I can get the election of George Washington if only Tim would sell it to me for $149.99, but finding the election of President Pierce is even more difficult because he is, let me put it gently, a bit forgettable.

    And so the hunt goes on. The pleasure goes on, and the collection goes on.

    I must go now. My neighbor is tearing down a wall in her 1850’s house. You never know, I may find Pierce being used as insulation.


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