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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old, Rare Newspapers

( Orginally published 1962 )



No newspaper was allowed to operate without a license-or to say much of anything against the public officials. Yet early one morning their appeared on the streets of the city the first edition of a newspaper which dared, in spite of all opposition, to speak the truth!

Only four pages long, it told of things which were ordinarily only whispered about on the street corners. It spoke of the savage way in which prisoners were treated by the allies of the editor's own countrymen. Yet it also charged the King of the enemy with immorality. Truth with a vengeance!

Today this sort of reporting would be accepted as a part of a journalist's trade, but at that time it simply was not done. For the year was 1690-and the city was Boston.

The editor was Benjamin Harris, an Englishman, who wrote of the way the Mohawks, England's allies, had savagely treated their French prisoners-and in the next news item spoke of the King of France as being immoral.

This, perhaps, was good reporting, but certainly not good politics, for it took only four days for the colonial authorities to put a stop to it (on the grounds that the little paper had no license )-a stop so effective that for fourteen years no further attempts were made to produce a real American newspaper.

Today, from this one and only issue of the newspaper which Harris called Publick Occurrences Both Foreign And Domestick, only one known copy has survived. Sadly enough, this one copy of the first American newspaper is not preserved in America at all, but is filed away in a section called "State Papers Colonial: America and the West Indies" of the Public Records Office in London, England.

Other than this one copy-and a host of reproductions-no other has survived-unless, of course, you can find one. Certainly it should be found, for a copy of the first American newspaper should be on American soil-as well as in the Public Records Office in London, England.

America does, however, possess copies of the first edition of the newspaper which was issued fourteen years after the colonial authorities successfully put a stop to Publick Occurrences. This second, and sometimes called the first "real," newspaper in America was the Boston News Letter, which was issued in Boston for many years; but it is the first edition, published in April, 1704, that we are primarily interested in.

There are three copies of this first edition which are known to be extant-and on American ground. One is with the New-York Historical Society in New York; one is with the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston; and the third is with the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass.

If there are other extant copies of this first edition of the Boston News Letter, they will be in your attic or in your cellar or in the neighborhood second-hand store-waiting for you to find them.

Both of these above lost newspapers are important historicallyand this makes them lost treasure-but most of the time copies of old newspapers are worthless unless they are the first printings of a city, county or state, and then there are collectors who want them.

One of these "firsts" is a type of newspaper called the "corantos," the earliest known newspapers printed in the English language, some of them dating back to the early sixteen hundreds. These corantos fall into the lost-treasure class. They are very rare and quite valuable.

Two of the earliest corantos extant are today in the Library of Congress. One of them is dated August 6, 1621; the other is dated October 11 of that same year.

If you could find another copy as early as these, you would have made a real find in the field of lost treasure. Any early newspaper, of course, is at least worth an investigation.

Even before the days of Christ there were such things as "newspapers." The Romans even had journals, and a lot of it was army news, the most important news in the Roman Empire. Some journals, however, told of such items as deaths, punishments, and sacrifices.

Other Roman journals told of the doings of the Senate, and some of the later journals had also accounts of the royal family as well as news of the Senate. Scribes, called Actuarii, took down the speeches of the Senate for publication. In all probability they were the forerunners of our modern-day reporters.

On the other side of the world and at a later date, the oldest daily journal in the world was started. This was the Peking Gazette, also known as Li Chau. The Peking Gazette was first published, believe it or not, in 1340 A.D.

The Peking Gazette is still in existence and is an official journal, forming a pamphlet of twenty to forty pages of coarse paper, printed from wooden types on one side only and having a colored paper cover.

Elsewhere-in Venice-the monthly published Notizie Scritte, started in 1562, is said to have been the first Italian newspaper. The war which Venice waged in Dalmatia gave rise in 1563 to the custom of having military and commercial information read at a particular place by those desirous of learning the news. A file of these Venetian papers, covering a period of sixty years, is still preserved in the Magliabecchi Library at Florence-extant treasures of another age.

From anywhere in the world and from almost any century, an old newspaper can be treasure-if you can find it and if you recognize it for what it is.