Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The end of newsprint and ink-stained fingers: Is there value in newspapers?

March 4, 2009
Posted by Noah

Last Saturday morning, chopping some pear for my daughter’s cereal, I read a news story online about the latest collapsing newspaper conglomerate, and the latest big city title to shutter forever. Buried in the list was a little company called JRC, now in Chapter 11, which owns the first newspaper I ever wrote for – the first writing I ever got paid for – called The Pine Plains Register Herald. It was a weekly of 400 circulation in a tiny town in New York’s Hudson Valley. It was one of seven in a chain of small weeklies under the umbrella of Taconic Press, which was what JRC had bought. I worked all up and down Taconic Press, in most every capacity. They were some of the best days of my life. With the demise of its parent company, just like that, Taconic Press – like myriad others – will soon be no more. Perhaps it is best, as the newspaper must inevitably yield to the Internet. Here I was, after all, reading about it digitally…

But this is Heritage, and we’re collectors! If the newspaper must yield to the Web, then the best examples of the passing medium will end up with us, and there is always a buyer for the highpoints of any American cultural touchstone. With that in mind I sat down this morning and searched the Heritage Auction Archives for newspapers. After a few tries and a bit of sorting, I came up with the list you can see here.

The good news? There are indeed a handful of valuable newspapers in and amongst the more than 2,000,000 lots we have on file. The bad news? There are only a handful of valuable newspapers in and amongst the more than 2,000,000 lots we have on file. So that Nov. 5, 2009 Washington Post, or that Sept. 11 (and/or 12), 2001 New York Times, or that Nov. 23, 1963 Dallas Morning News? Well… You won’t be retiring on them anytime soon… Maybe your great-great grandkids…

The top selling newspaper issue of all time at Heritage is a very famous one, indeed, though, and the world won’t likely ever see its equal again. It’s the last issue of The Daily Citizen of Vicksburg, MS, printed on July 2 and 4, 1863, deep in the heart of The Civil War. It sold in 2007 for more than $5,000. It is famous for two things: 1) that it was printed on wallpaper because there was no paper in the embattled, starving city, and 2) The conquering Federals added their own editor’s note to the original editor’s note; too long to post here, but good stuff indeed…

The second highest lot, which brought more than $1,400 at our Civil War Auction last November, is a Lincoln Assassination edition of The New York Times from April 15, 1865. Printed in the shadow of Ruination Day, in the hours between Lincoln’s shooting and death. Again, amazing stuff.

This is not to discourage you as much as myself, perhaps. You see, I have a large box in the back of my closet that I’ve been schlepping around for more than a decade now. It contains the first several dozen newspapers in which a story of mine appeared, along with several dozen magazines with various writings of mine in them. I can read each story and tell you exactly what was going on in my life, in the world, and in the room where I wrote it at the moment my fingers were on the keys. The truth is that the powerful memories those papers evoke are the most value they will ever have.

Now that I think about it, actually, that’s worth a tremendous amount to me, even if a bidder will never offer a plug nickel for them.