Headlines as History

Before you throw the newspaper that has been in the bottom of the bird cage for as long as you can remember, read the headline – it could be worth a fortune.
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A fitting tribute to the Queen’s ascendence to the throne.

When I was at school there was one lesson I hated with a passion. History! The stories were great. Yenghis Khan bludgeoning his way across Asia, King John being forced to sit down at Runnymede and sign the Magna Carta, Harold getting the arrow in the eye at Hastings that put paid to Angle-Saxon superiority in Britain, Jeanne d’Arc leading her bolshie troops across the Loire and being burned at the stake by a less than grateful king for her troubles, the Spanish Inquisition with its colourful array of the apparatus of torture, the boy with his finger in the dyke saving Holland from being reclaimed by the sea, Marco Polo’s travels on the Silk Routes, Columbus stumbling on America, the brothers Montgolfier’s hot air balloon over Paris, Captain Cook being done to death by the Hawiian islanders etc. The romantic and macabre stories of death and derring-do are never ending. They are not what gave me the hives when a history lesson was coming up. It was all those rotten dates I was expected to remember. What had dates to do with history. History was made up of events – not dates. On several occasions, when I had got a date wrong by a couple of hundred years or so and my teacher was flexing the chastising slipper, I tried to explain my position. My pleas fell on deaf ears. She seemed to think that I just wasn’t cooperating, which wasn’t the case. For instance I loved Geography lessons. This could easily be dominated by figures, Paris is 5,253 and 1/2 miles from Buenos Aires – or what ever. Luckily Geography is all about countries, people, alliances and folklore. Who cares how far away? Once you climb aboard the plane, boat, train or bus it is just a matter of time before you are where you want to be.

For this reason I was intrigued when I was talking to the late Dinsdale Landen and he told me that he collected newspapers. He wasn’t a rabid collector with rooms and archives full of yellowing paper which would have been better employed wrapping fish and chips or hanging, delicately skewered and threaded with string, on a latrine wall. He just kept papers with flamboyant headlines screaming remarkable news. This, it seemed to me, was the real way to get a handle on history. What was even more encouraging was that old newspapers could be worth money. And as they got older they would become worth even more money. The revelation that all those old newspaper I had carelessly tossed in the dustbin or kindled into a fire could now be worth a fortune, came back to haunt me. I wondered how much my Daily Mail covering the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles, which I had been cute enough to put away in a drawer, would rake me in if I put it on eBay. The answer was sobering. Nothing. So many fans of Lady Di had put the paper tenderly away in a bottom drawer that there was market saturation. On the other hand papers headlining the death of Princess Di and Dodi Fayed are now changing hands for about fifteen quid. And rising. I’m not sure what that shows except, maybe, that disaster has more currency than happiness.

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The headline the world was waiting for in 1945.

That was about as far as it got until I talked to John McMillan of Historic Newspapers. I had read, with interest, the advertisements in newspaper and magazines selling Birth-date Newspapers. These are originals or reproductions, depending on how much you want to pay, of the newspapers published on the day you were born. An interestingly different type of present for those who have everything – or nothing. My Birth Date was reasonably interesting and would have grabbed my attention earlier if dates hadn’t been beaten out me and become anathema in my school days. My birthday is 21st. November and I was born in 1937. (Yes I know I don’t look a day over 25.) That was the year of the Coronation of King George Vl. Which didn’t mean a lot to me as I was busy being born in a railway carriage on the German/Polish border at the time. Scandalously, for some reason, my entry into the world went unreported.That didn’t happen to Jane Fonda, born on the same day, daughter of Henry, she was greeted with delight in all the appropriate papers. My Birth paper was full of things like the coming edict that parents who weren’t 100% behind Nazi philosophy would have their children taken from them and given to more deserving Nazi couples. Picasso was coming in for some hate mail from Hitler. The Nazi chief wasn’t too happy about the Degenerate Art, and the degenerate artist who had painted a picture which showed the barbarity of the German Luftwaffe bombing innocent Spanish citizens in Guernica without any sort of warning. This was justified by the Nazi hierarchy with the spine chilling statement that it gave their pilots some live practice for what was to come. This was living history in a time frame that it is easy to get your head around.

Newspapers have been around for as long as there has being people educated enough to read them. In the early days they were usually in the form of pamphlets that were fed out to the readers by reactionaries with a cause to support. As time went on readers wanted something other than political opinions fed to them and where happy when sport became an issue. How horses were running, what sort of odds could be expected, which bare knuckle pugilist was in form and who was unlikely to toe up to the line. There was even a sort of primitive life style magazine circulating in Covent Garden listing the addresses of bordellos in the area, what exotic practices could be expected there and a list of the best equipped ladies of the night. William Caxton was the man responsible for unleashing the printed word onto the streets in the middle of the fifteenth century. He set up shop in Westminster and produced over 100 books on his rudimentary wooden press. When he wasn’t laying down another chapter of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales he found time to rip off a few broadsheets for general circulation. These were read in the taverns and clubs by the more educated citizens. As reading became more widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries the demand for information grew and as always there were those of an entrepreneurial turn ready and willing to supply and fulfil the demand. It was around this time that some of the most popular newspapers of today were first published.

The Morning Post first published in 1722 merged with the Daily Telegraph in 1937 ( and didn’t publish the major event of my birth). The Post was followed in 1785 by the Grand Daddy of all newspapers, The Times and then The Observer in 1791. By this time even girls were beginning to read and just over ten years later in 1802, The Glasgow Herald brought enlightenment to the north. It was well received and in 1817 The Scotsman joined it on the breakfast tables of the rich and educated. Another early competitor for the growing readership was the Daily Telegraph published in 1855. The Manchester Guardian rolled the first copy off the presses in 1821 and remained unchanged in layout and content bias until it dropped the Manchester handle in 1959 and became today’s Guardian.

All those dates. What do they matter? Not a bit. It IS interesting to know that the Daily Telegraph can trace a branch of its root back to the beginning of the Newspaper industry as it is today. It IS interesting that the north got into the market so early. There are dozens of other papers which published, flared and died as well as others which still exist or have metamorphosed into something else. Like Punch which was first ran off the press in 1841, stopped publishing in 1992 but was so sorely missed that it was back on the newsstands in 1996. Where do all these old newspapers come from? Obviously if you want to start a collection the time is now.

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July 1969. Who would have guessed that fifty odd years later we would still be waiting for the headline about the landing on Mars?

The first thing you have to think about is what sort of collection you want to finish up with. If you have a handy barn or warehouse standing nearby you can decide to collect all the newspapers from now on as well as swooping down on anything which might be up for sale. The main problem is that relatively recent, say 25 years old, newspapers can set you back tens, even hundreds of pounds.This means that your hobby will inevitably take over your life in ten years or less. So it is important that you define what you are collecting. Headlines at least cut down the amount of space needed to house the collection. Disaster headlines are very collectible. A start could be made with the papers headlining the Tsunami, just over a year old and probably lying in a garage unwanted and unloved. This was headlined throughout the world so another decision has to be made. Do you try to collect all the headlines from the Tsunami as a mini collection, or do you stick to just one newspaper? Maybe the Police shooting of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes only six months ago could make a starting point. England winning the Olympic games had a whiff of disaster about it. The story was swamped by the 7th July 2005 suicide bomb attacks on London just one day after the celebrations. It’s a start that can lead to a lot of refining or expansion as the piles of old newspapers grow and yellow. If your embryo collection breeds the biting bug you can begin to look for suitable examples from the past. Attics are a good place to start. It is amazing how many newspaper going back years, maybe to the day the occupants moved in, are wrapped around some of the owners most precious possessions or just lining empty boxes. The bigger your family or the bigger your circle of friends the greater chance you have of coming up with something tasty. Garages can also hide a treasure trove. Especially if your garage has never smelled a whiff of carbon monoxide and acts as an overflow dump for objects that you don’t want in the house but are reluctant to throw away. You could even strike lucky at a boot or jumble sale. Maybe not. Since TV has taken on the mania for collectables with such shows as Flog It! and Boot Sales Challenge more people realise that almost anything older than a week can be potentially worth money. Take Whitakers Almanacs for instance. Fifteen – twenty years ago you could find stacks of them lying around in junk shops or being used to fuel the Autumn ritual leaf burning in the garden. No more. Even those with dates only a few years old are making money. The ethos of the moment demands that you throw nothing away. Once you have cleaned out the lofts of your family and friends and added a few more items to the collection it could be time to buy into a trend that can only grow over the years. Auction houses and junk shops increasingly deal in bundles of old news print. If you have done a bit of research you may find that just one paper will be worth the cost of the lot. What may be of no interest for you could be something another collector has looked for, without success, for years. Disaster may be on the front page but for those more interested in sport it could well be the back page that attracts a collector. Like everything now it is hard to get ahead of the dealers. When newspapers shift office or go under the dealers are in like a shot buying up whatever they can lay their hands on. A few years ago, when the startling discovery was made that it was more spatially economical to store back issues on microfiche or electronically, many newspapers put their entire back issues up for sale. For old time’s sake they probably kept a couple of copies of each of the older papers. Imagine what it must have been like when Fleet Street moved to Wapping. All those newspapers stored for a hundred years or more suddenly having to find a new home. Dealers bought up whole collections and are now gleaning a ripe reward.

For the disaster connoisseur there is plenty to choose from in the 20th century alone. The death of of Queen Victoria for openers. She bowed out as the century swept in. A few months later US President McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York. That had Vice-President Teddy (Bear) Roosevelt scampering back from a climbing holiday in the Adirondacks to take over. The collapse of the Campanile Tower in Venice was pretty spectacular and the slaughter of Russian officers on board the Potemkin by their disaffected crew was headline news. The devastating San Francisco earthquake didn’t go unnoticed and many international papers devoted a lot of space to the pictures of the flaming ruins. Disaster and fame came to Lieutenant Thomas E Selfridge when he became the first man to die in a plane crash in the USA. The biggest, non-conflict disaster which still has resonance today must be the sinking of the Titanic. 1,500 passengers died when the ‘unsinkable’ liner hit the immovable ice berg. Whether the Suffragette, Emily Davison, getting ploughed under by the King’s horse Anmer at the Derby counts as a disaster is debatable but the event made a great front page. Probably the greatest international disaster stemmed from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife on a state visit to Sarajevo. They were shot by student Gavrilo Princip after the car they were in turned up the wrong street. That hapless misrouting led to the declaration of the Great War and the world was forever changed. The wars, first and second made an art of screaming headlines and it is hard to be selective. So you pays yer money and you takes yer pick. When peace was finally restored disaster appeared to abound. It is hard to select particular headlines as examples but whatever is picked the assassination of John F Kennedy and the planes flying on a suicide mission into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre must be well up there.

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The Titanic. April 1912 – and we are still talking about it today.

Once you get back past World War 2 the price of headlines, of disaster, happy events or sporting, rises sharply. If you fancy getting stuck into the 19th. century you need to have a well stuffed wallet. A great one for any collection would be the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Nelson. If you could find anyone willing to part with their precious copy you can expect to shell out anything from £10 -15,000. The reason they can pull that sort of money is that there are only about 20 copies in existence and many of those are in a fragile state. A little easier to afford, at the moment, is an assassination of Kennedy paper. Anything from £50 – £100 depending on which paper it is and the condition. It would probably cost in the region of £300 -400 if it headlined in the Dallas Mornng News. This is a sidebar to the collecting game. If the headline is sourced in a newspaper close to where the event happened it usually means it can command a better price. A D-Day headline can be purchase for £60 or so but the September 4th 1939 newspaper screaming Great Britain at War would cost between £150 and £200. Bit of a surprise is that the Dam Buster Raid of the Ruhr dams goes for a relatively modest £30. A banker for the future is the Man in The Moon headline, relatively cheap for around £60. It will be something to leave to the kids in twenty years time. Who could resist the Relief of Mafeking in the Boer War? Or Queen Victoria’s Coronation for less than £50? As you delve back and broaden the scope of your collection you might like to get your hands on a newspaper from the Civil War announcing the execution by decapitation of King Charles the First. That’s 17th century we’re talking and if you hear of one going for under £20,000 and you don’t want it let me know.

These are all examples of the cream of the crop/ You can work up a reasonable collection with more recent titles for as little as £10-15 . At this point in time it is just as well to pick up any really fantastic headlines, like England Wins World Cup or British Player wins Wimbledon. These will all become valuable in the future. Another line of collection deals with comic strips in newspapers. Some of those which appear today have been running for years. The Daily Mirror is a prime example. They have had a page of cartoons running from the early days. It is interesting to see how they reflect the contemporary world around them In the forties a strip called Ruggles was forecasting topless barmaids and the end of the married state. Jane was especially attuned to the needs of the service man and the double entendres flowed. Buck Ryan hunted down spies and saboteurs with his enigmatic girlfriend, Twilight, who never showed her face. And then there was Useless Eustace.

There are a number of companies catering to the collectors urge to collect all their yesterdays in headlines. I found Historic Newspapers very helpful . You can get them on historic@clara.net or log on to their website at http://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk. But the great thing is that to become a collector of Historic newspapers all you have to do is , instead of lining the budgie cage with a great headliner, stow it away safely somewhere and watch its value rise.

Model Mart February 2006

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