ANTIQUE NEWSPAPERS – RARE HISTORICAL TREASURES
What collectible offers the opportunity to “relive” past history, captures the thrill of a treasure hunt, provides hours upon hours of entertainment and education, and has been preserved in amazingly excellent condition? The surprising answer – original historic newspapers!
With rare coins, stamps, art, sports cards and Hollywood and pop culture items all very much over-promoted, many collectors, investors and history buffs have been searching for a new and exciting opportunity. Rare newspapers offer the chance to enter on the ground floor of perhaps the last original collectible available.
HISTORY AS IT HAPPENED!
Imagine picking up your newspaper in the year 1780, and reading with horror that General Benedict Arnold had attempted to betray the Patriot cause during the height of the American Revolution! Or discovering in 1803, that the U.S. had literally doubled its size overnight via The Louisiana Purchase. Marvel at Robert Fulton’s new steamboat invention; sense the Nation’s grief over the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. You can soar with the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, express outrage at the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and even “threaten” your broker over the 1929 Stock Market Crash!
America’s newspapers, both past and present, are a mirror of her rich history. They maintain an invaluable record of the people and events that shaped our nation. The key battles of the American Revolution, the discoveries of Lewis and Clark, the speeches of Henry Clay and Frederick Douglass, and even the legendary gunfights of the Wild West are all captured in the pages of America’s newspapers.
And, the original and complete newspapers offered on this unique website are the exact issues which were picked up and avidly read by our ancestors in early and recent America! These are the real deal! So, if you decide to purchase a newspaper from say 1789, you can be assured that someone living in the fledgling United States in that year actually read your very issue!
Original newspapers provide an authentic “feel” for the past in a way no history textbook or novel can truly match. Besides historical content, the earlier papers contained fascinating advertisements, notices of runaway slaves, announcements of “cure-alls” for seemingly every malady from coughs to cancer, and editorials on the day’s hottest issues. As newspapers evolved, innovations such as banner headlines, comic strips, sports reporting and even advice to the lovelorn were added. The newspaper is truly a “living” chronicle of daily life in past centuries.
FACTORS THAT DETERMINE VALUE
1. HISTORIC CONTENT – arguably the most important element in pricing an antique newspaper. For example, an issue printed in 1865 reporting the tragic Assassination of President Lincoln is many times more valuable than a paper containing a minor battle of the Civil War (although both may be fascinating). The Death of George Washington, the Monroe Doctrine, Siege at the Alamo, the Gettysburg Address, the Custer Massacre, Dred Scott Case, and the Wright Brothers First Flight, to mention but a few, are all major events highly sought after by collectors and historians.
2. RARITY – determined by original circulation, institutional and private holdings, available supply and type of paper (city, small town, territorial, specialized, etc.). Popularity of the title may also come into play, i.e., an early issue of The New York Times might be more sought after than that of a lesser known paper.
3. AGE – generally the older the newspaper, the smaller the circulation and the less frequent the printing. 18th century newspapers are obviously harder to locate than later issues. Thus, a paper printed in 1789 may be worth $250 or more while an 1849 might begin at $50 or so.
4. QUALITY – not quite as important as in pricing other collectibles such as coins, stamps or baseball cards. Certainly a near mint copy of an early newspaper is worth more than a similar issue having fold creases, tears, holes or other imperfections, but the spread in price is not extremely large owing to the scarcity of most early newspapers.
To get the most enjoyment from collecting and investing in rare antique newspapers, several guidelines can be followed:
1. Purchase newspapers printed on rag paper, generally 1880 and earlier. Earlier newspapers are relatively safe and easy to handle and will not deteriorate if kept in a cool, dry environment out of direct sunlight. To be certain, 20th century issues are highly collectible as well, but more so if they contain major headlines or news, are graphically striking, and in excellent condition. Newspapers such as “Dewey Defeats Truman”, the Wright Brothers First Flight in 1903, and the sinkings of the Titanic and Lusitania are all superb 20th century collection choices.
2. For collectors new to the market, a practical way to begin acquiring rare newspapers is to purchase papers from several different periods in history, in other words, create a “type set” of newspapers. You can select issues from different decades, major periods of time such as the Civil War, Wild West, Gold Rush era, Mexican War, World Wars I and II, and others. Or, you can collect Presidential elections, speeches of famous orators, Civil War battles, African American history, the War of 1812, Naval History (as I do!), and other fascinating topics of your choice. Indeed, it’s fun to collect whatever you are most interested in. And, in this way, you can see how America developed through the eyes of people who actually saw and/or experienced what are now historic events.
3. Purchase major and minor events in history. Building a collection of newspapers containing accounts of truly important historical events is usually for more advanced collectors or those whose means can allow them to invest larger sums into their collections. Papers reporting George Washington’s Inauguration or Death, the Bill of Rights, the Louisiana Purchase, Battle of New Orleans, Monroe Doctrine, California Gold Rush, Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Gettysburg, the Lincoln Assassination, Lindbergh Flight, etc., are more expensive than more common issues. However, it is important to note that such scarcer papers are still light years behind the prices we are seeing for art, coins, stamps, antiques, sports cards and other collectibles. For example, there are very few Lincoln Assassination newspapers on the market today and these normally sell from $3,000-5,000 each. However, there are literally thousands of U.S. coins available from $3,000 and up at any one time and they are of far lesser rarity than original historic newspapers.
It has become increasingly obvious to collectors, investors and historians alike that early newspapers are nowhere near as plentiful as they were just ten short years ago. The once regular flow of papers from institutions has slowed to a mere trickle and may shut off completely in the very near future.
The demand for this ever-decreasing supply of antique newspapers has never been greater. Through increased auction sales, private transactions and the Internet, the public is becoming increasingly aware of both the existence, excitement and importance of original historic newspapers. While still vastly undervalued in comparison to other tangible assets, prices for both historic American and British newspapers are finally beginning to rise.
One additional point should be considered. We are living in an age of computers with myriad technological changes occurring each year. Many computer scientists as well as journalists are predicting that during the 21st century, we will receive our daily news via computer, resulting in the total demise of the newspaper as we know it. It is easy to see that the values for carefully preserved historic newspapers could literally skyrocket.
Collector appeal, affordability, exciting historical entertainment and a great gift-giving idea all combine to make original historic newspapers perhaps the most attractive of all collectible investments. For many sound reasons, the future potential of these remarkable documents is virtually unlimited.
Mark E. Mitchell
P.S. One final note – for those who wish to learn more about the history of newspapers including the early means for news gathering, reporting, circulation figures, individual titles, important figures in journalism history and more, there are several excellent books (out of print) that may be obtained from libraries or antiquarian book dealers. Two of the very best are:
American Journalism, A History of Newspapers in the United States through 250 years, 1690-1940, by Frank Luther Mott, New York, The Macmillan Co., 1949.
The Press and America, by Edwin Emery, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1954, 1962 & 1972 (updated editions).