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No surprise: The daily newspaper, which endured the advent of both radio and television, is becoming an artifact of the past. In the Information Age, when time is measured in nanoseconds or less, and high-speed Internet makes even computerized printing presses seem positively Paleozoic, hard-copy newspapers – which are only going up in price – seem a waste of money and pulpwood. Want the latest commentary on Casey Anthony’s romantic prospects? Watch “Nancy Grace” on your iPhone. Need a discount coupon for ink cartridges or paper for your printer? Print one out … if you still have enough ink and paper left. (The Internet brings all that and more to you with a few keystrokes; I didn’t say it would necessarily make you smarter.)
Personally, I’m going to miss the newsprint dailies when they finally go extinct: I keep thinking of all those hardworking Depression-era kids in knickers yelling “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” who got some meager income from hawking papers; nowadays, a lot of kids don’t even have THAT as a job prospect, even fresh off the college commencement stage, diploma in hand. What’s more, think of how many great writers got their start by writing for the dailies, a proving ground for people with real literary ambitions. Now any schmuck can get his or her writing all over cyberspace (no editor required!); take it from me, I’m one of them …
But let’s not lament progress: The reduced need for newspaper may mean the northern spotted owl has a chance after all! (Incidentally, can someone tell the Sierra Club to stop enclosing a quarter pound of useless paper in their junk-mail donation solicitations?) Besides, history buffs, gift givers and collectors have a huge selection of authentic, original vintage newspapers to choose from at Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers, of Williamsport, Penn.
I have purchased a number of newspapers from Tim over the years – starting with an issue of an early Washington Territory paper, the Daily Puget Sound Courier, from the early 1870s. (For others with an interest in the Northwest, I note that Tim currently lists an issue of the Walla Walla Statesman from 1867 for $54; an issue of the Daily Olympian from 1876 for $57; an 1873 issue of the Port Townsend paper the Semi-Weekly Argus for $80; and a rare copy of the Alaska Times, published in Seattle in 1871, for $395. How many antique malls would you have to visit to find all those?) I have since purchased – and regular search for – other issues in different subject categories, like boxing and whaling and even offbeat stuff like early reports of sea serpents off the coast of New England.
I even use Tim’s site for research. For example, after Googling early incidents of shark attacks in American waters – don’t ask me why – I found Tim has an issue of the Connecticut Courant from 1818 that gives an account of an African-American boy eaten by a shark when he tried to swim to shore from a ship at anchored in Bristol Harbor, off Providence, R.I. – an account I could not find anywhere else online, and possibly the earliest confirmed death by shark in the New World. (Two earlier incidents, including a possible bull shark attack in the Hudson River in 1642 and a possible tiger shark attack in Hawaii in 1779, are noted as unconfirmed.)
But as usual I digress. The fact is, even if you are interested in tamer things, like postage stamps and clocks, Tim usually has any number of vintage periodicals with contemporary images, advertisements and, needless to say, hard news going back to the 1600s.
For example, on this 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War in 1861, I couldn’t help asking Tim about newspapers relating to the war – individual issues, you can imagine, that were read by whole families and even communities thirsty for information on the war’s progress and their loved ones’ welfare. Having interviewed Tim before, I expected him to be fund of historical knowledge; he didn’t disappoint. Here are his responses:
AmeriCollector: How many Civil war newspapers do you have in stock?
Tim Hughes: Within our inventory of over two million newspapers, we currently have just shy of 9,000 Civil War era newspapers, limited to those dating from April 1861 thru April 1865. And these would be just “Yankee” newspapers. Newspapers from the Confederacy encompass another 800 to 900 issues within our inventory.
AC: Then these do not include antebellum and Reconstruction-era papers.
[singlepic id=411 w=320 h=240 float=left]Tim: No. These are entirely different eras with a different historical feel, although very intriguing among themselves. Newspapers just two or three years before the outbreak of the Civil War reflect a national unease, a tension which had to reach a boiling point. And with historical hindsight, we know that the Civil War was inevitable. Equally interesting are newspapers from one to two years after the final surrender of Confederate forces, as both news reports and editorial comments would reflect not just a sense of relief that that horrible was over, but where would we go from here? How do we re-assimilate the Confederates states into the Union? How do we deal with the fallout of thousands of freed slaves? Again, with historical hindsight we know it all worked out, but to the citizens of 1865 and 1866 there were many troubling questions with answers yet to be found. Only by reading newspapers of the day can one appreciate the mood of the country at the time. History books have a way of glossing over many interesting subtleties of this fascinating period.
AC: How many of your regular collectors specialize in the Civil War?
Tim: The Civil War is the largest “category” that we sell, and by a two-to-one margin; however, there are many categories within the hobby (number one would be 17th and 18th centuries, including the Revolutionary War). But I would estimate about 30 percent of our customers purchase Civil War newspapers, either as an occasional purchase or as a complete focus for the collection.
AC: What subjects do they collect (e.g., specific battles, military campaigns, states, personalities, illustrated papers)?
Tim: The collectible subjects are as varied as our customers, which is one of the great aspects of this hobby. One can tailor their collection within this category according to their interest: only major battles; issues with mention of key figures (Lincoln, Jeff Davis, Grant, Lee, etc.); issues reporting battles from within their state; issues reporting battles close to their hometown; one newspaper from as many different cities as possible; etc. One intriguing opportunity within the hobby is to collect reports of a single battle in both a Yankee and Confederate newspaper and recognizing the strong editorial biases supporting each of their causes. You would swear that both sides won every battle during the Civil War. There are also “camp” newspapers, small newspapers printed in the field on small presses with the newspaper traveling from place to place with the soldiers. They are fascinating and very rare … part of the thrill of the search!
AC: What are the rarer issues – and what’s the rarest one you have? Are Confederate papers harder to get or in greater demand than papers from the Northern states?
Tim: Confederate newspapers are considerably more rare in today’s market. As the war drug on and the northern troops moved through the South, it was not unusual that public buildings and institutions would be ransacked or burned, destroying holdings of newspapers forever. Plus, with most of the paper mills located in the North, there was simply a scarcity of paper which the Southern presses had to deal with, causing many to limit their press runs if not shut down completely. But even this hardship resulted in a fascinating niche item for the newspaper collecting hobby, as some Southern titles were forced to print on “necessity” paper, essentially anything they could find that would take ink. There are newspapers printed on the back of wallpaper, printed on blue, green, pink, yellow paper, on wrapping paper, on paper made out of corn husks, on lined ledger paper, etc. They are a joy to find. As with any collectible, the more rare the item, the more desired they are (and higher the price), so yes, Confederate newspapers are in more demand than Northern titles.
Perhaps our most rare issue would be the Red River Rover, a small newspaper printed on board the steamer Des Moines on lined tablet paper. There are personal handwritten notations inside, which only adds to the uniqueness of the issue. I have only ever encountered one issue of this title in 35 years.
AC: What is a price range?
Tim: Northern newspapers with Civil War reports typically retail for anywhere from $20 to $35 each for “average” issues with common battle reports. Issues with maps on the front page will command double this amount, and issues with significant battles or events can range from $100 to $2,500. The most desired newspaper is typically the first report of Lincoln’s assassination, although issues with the Gettysburg Address and the Battle of Gettysburg are in very high demand as well. Average Confederate newspapers tend to sell for $100 to $150 each, and again, issues with more significant content can take prices over $1,000. The rarity of the title comes into play with Confederates titles more so than with Yankee titles, with issues from Richmond and Charleston being among the more common, while issues from Florida or anywhere in the Deep South are much more rare and consequently much higher-priced. Such issues would sell for $400 to close to $1,000 each without any significant content.
AC: Why collect vintage newspapers?
Tim: Early newspapers provide a fascinating and unique glimpse into the past, allowing one to be a witness to history as it was happening, raw with the emotions, biases and prejudices of the day and without the political correctness often found in today’s history books. Holding a Civil War newspaper is literally holding history. Someone, 150 years ago, held that actual newspaper in their hands and read – for the first time – the battle reports that were ongoing and shaping their country, and from a perspective of not knowing the outcome. Early newspapers offer that special thrill which cannot be captured in a book, video or Web site presentation.
AC: Are there any other interesting anecdotes you can add about Civil War newspapers?
[singlepic id=408 w=320 h=240 float=left]Tim: There is a multitude of fascinating stories behind many of the newspapers of the Civil War era, and with a little research the back story of Civil War newspapers can be brought to life. One example is the Memphis Daily Appeal, a collection of which recently came into our inventory. We noticed that some of the issues had a dateline of Jackson, Miss., others Atlanta, Ga., which seemed odd for a Memphis newspaper. We came to learn this newspaper had an unusual and fascinating history.
Memphis was a Confederate stronghold up through the Battle of Memphis on June 6, 1862, at which time the Yankees moved in and it became a Yankee city. The Memphis Daily Appeal, dedicated to the Southern cause and rallying both civilians and soldiers, was the most important newspaper of the region and soon became known as the “Moving Appeal.”
On June 6, 1862, the presses and plates were loaded into a boxcar and moved to Grenada, Mississippi, where it stayed for a few months, until approaching Federal troops threatened again, forcing a move in November 1862 to Jackson, Mississippi, where it published until May 1863, when Federal troops again arrived. By this time, the Appeal had gained notoriety among Union forces as a rebel sympathizer while it remained on the run. The next stop was Meridian, Miss., from where, one issue and two days later, the wandering journalists moved on to Mobile, Ala., then to Montgomery, and ultimately to Atlanta, the economic heart of the Confederacy. Publication from Atlanta began in June 1863 and continued through July 1864, when it returned to Montgomery, where it published from September 1864 to April 1865. Its final move was to Columbus, Ga., where Federal forces finally caught up with it. It resumed publication following the war in Memphis on November 5, 1865. During just a four-year period this newspaper was published in nine different cities.
This is the story of just one newspaper from the Civil War. What other stories do Civil War newspapers hold which await exploring? This is just part of the thrill of collecting old newspapers.
All images courtesy of Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers
Learn more about vintage newspapers: Visit the Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers Web site at www.rarenewspapers.com.Fair disclosure: Tim Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers is an advertiser on AmeriCollector.com.