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( Originally Published 1963 )
Almanacs are not as indispensable nowadays as they were a century ago. Then they were kept in kitchens for ready reference. By the end of the year, these little paper pamphlets were pretty well worn out. It is unusual to find an almanac 100 to 150 years old that is in good condition.
The two largest collections of the almanacs published in the United States are owned by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the library of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. In the latter collection, which includes 7,000, one almanac is dated 1696. Of the many currently being published, The Old Farmer's Almanac, which still makes its annual appearance from New Hampshire, is said to have been established in 1792.
Many newspapers in the United States have observed a full century of continuous publication; a few, 150 years or more. Widely credited as the first newspaper published in this country was the Boston News-Letter, in Boston on April 24, 1704, but it was preceded by the Master William, which was first published as a daily newspaper by the French who settled the Isle St. Croix, now Dochet's Island, near Calais, Maine. James Franklin, the elder brother to whom Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to learn the printing trade, established the New England Courant in Boston in August, 1721. After Benjamin Franklin had settled in Philadelphia, he purchased (17Z9) the weekly Pennsylvania Gazette, for which he succeeded in building up the largest circulation of any newspaper in the Colonies.
The word "gazette" as a synonym for a newspaper comes from the Venetian coin gazetta. This was the amount a person had to pay to hear the news read publicly in Venice, Italy, after 1563, when the first newspapers were issued there by the government.
Newspapers are chiefly valuable for stories of some far-reaching event or history-making episode. Unless they are editions that were printed on rag paper, most of them will now be fragile and yellowed. This makes little difference if they can still be read and the story is sufficiently momentous.
A much more valuable type of printed matter than almanacs or newspapers would be original wallpaper, 100 or more years old. Very old wallpapers usually can be removed successfully without damaging tears because they were mounted on canvas or some other fabric. However, anyone who suspects that the old wallpaper in a room may date back a century or more should certainly get the opinion of an expert, and also his advice on how to handle it.
Scenic wallpapers included landscapes, seascapes, and historic scenes. Many of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century papers had architectural motifs, and floral designs also were popular. Wallpapers from China first were hand-painted, later printed, but most of those dating back to the early nineteenth century came from France, where they were hand-printed from wooden blocks, one for each color. Many contemporary wallpapers draw inspiration from the designs of old ones, and a few authentic reproductions of eighteenth-century wallpapers are now being printed and sold as such.
Books are another specialized field. There is always some market for old ones of all sorts-not just the first editions, limited editions, and copies autographed by the author. For example, there are collectors who hunt for the Frank Merriwell stories, the rags-toriches novels written in such abundance by Horatio Alger, and the eightyodd books of adventure written for boys by George A. Henty in the late 1800's. One resident of the Hudson River Valley haunts country auctions in summer looking for nature books written by authors who were better known on other subjects (one of his finds was a nature book written by E. P. Roe, the Presbyterian clergyman who wrote such properly sentimental novels during the 1870's and 1880's).
Don't count on too great a return from the leatherbound sets of Balzac, Thackeray, Scott, Ruskin, Dumas, and others that were published and sold in profusion between the 1860's and 1910 or thereabouts. During this same period, a lavishly illustrated and decorative leather-covered copy of the poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, James Whitcomb Riley, Eugene Field, or their contemporaries or the essays of Elbert Hubbard was a highly acceptable gift. Sets of books are not exactly easy to dispose of, and the individual volume, however handsome, is not of any great value.
Light novels and books of lendinglibrary caliber are best sent on to the nearest rummage sale. It will be wise to make a list of all other books, including title, author, illustrator if any, publisher, and year of publication. The list then can be submitted to secondhand book dealers. The age, rarity, and condition of a book as well as the author and subject matter determine its value both to collectors and in the second-hand book market. Dealing in old books is a flourishing business in almost every city throughout the country.
It was a rare household that did not own one to a half-dozen Bibles. Perhaps the most interesting are the Family Bibles, which were conspicuously important to Victorian families. These Bibles usually were large books, four inches or more thick with pages approximately 9 by 12 inches. They contained not only the Old and New Testaments but also supplementary material such as a history of the books of the Bible, stories of the Bible for young people with references to the book in which each was related, great deeds of Bible heroes, perhaps a history of the coins and denominations of money used in the Bible. Line drawings and full-page illustrations in color enlivened the finer Bibles. Most important, however, were the few pages of heavy, decorated paper on which could be written data concerning all the members of a family-names, place and date of births, and dates of marriage and death.
A Family Bible was prominently displayed in the parlor. Therefore, it usu-ally had a rich-looking binding of leather, possibly velvet or plush. What a person who is not interested in keeping a Family Bible does with it, is strictly his or her business.
Scrapbooks can be a gold mine. The keeping of a scrapbook was a popular hobby for adults during the 1800's, not only in the United States but also in England and European countries. Often these scrapbooks were nothing more than ledgers, with every page carefully pasted over with clippings. Some, of course, were especially made for the purpose, with blank pages and fancy covers.
Some scrapbooks contain nothing more than newspaper clippings pertaining to the history of a family between, say, 1850 and 1900. More fascinating arc books of miscellaneous clippings. These included events, disasters, memorials, observances, verse, etc. Sometimes the columns of black-and-white type were broken up with a flower cluster clipped from a seed catalogue, or something similar and colorful.
Included in many scrapbooks was delightful handwork-water colors, prints colored by hand, needlework pictures, silhouettes and other cutouts, feather work, and pressed flowers, as well as the clippings from newspapers and magazines. Friends often contributed to scrapbooks and usually signed their names to the pages on which their offerings were pasted.
A scrapbook is an "iffy" find. An antique dealer will leaf through it in hopes of finding at least one prize. It might be a small Currier & Ives print, a fashion plate from one of the ladies' magazines, a page of cutout flowers gracefully mounted on a dark background, or anything else that is decorative and unusual. For such finds he will pay some money, remove the page from the scrapbook, and probably frame it to sell.
Diaries, including those kept by soldiers during the War Between the States, seldom prove to be the basis for a best-selling novel or non-fiction book. However, don't discard these until someone has looked through them to find out whether they might be of interest and value, and" hence something to be turned over to a historical society, a research group-or an author.
City directories, county atlases, and local maps belong to the group termed "ephemera" by collectors. Mail order, seed, and nursery catalogues, posters, and handbills can be even more interesting or may have possibilities as colorful decoration. Stop and look over any piles of such material. They might have historical value to libraries and the like, in which case you would probably have to donate them as gifts, for research use. On the other hand, it may be worth your while to call in antique dealers who specialize in maps, old books, prints, and the like.
Then there are advertising cards, many of them as charming and amusing now as the greeting cards mailed at St. Valentine's Day and Christmas during the nineteenth century. The advertising cards displayed some copy about a product of the firm that issued and distributed them. These printed and lithographed cards called attention to all sorts of things, such as dentifrices, coffee, thread, dye, stove polish, corsets, organs, cologne, cough drops, soap, and cleaning fluid (such as Pearline, also advertised in The Ladies' Home journal of the 1890's). Often, a series of scenes, animals, people, or the like were issued for one product or by one firm.
The exchange of cards on St. Valentine's Day is a much older custom than exchanging Christmas greeting cards. Valentine cards were being exchanged during the 1700's. The earliest ones were handmade. The first commercially made Valentine cards, probably available during the late 1840's, were about as elaborate as those that were made by hand. Although Victorians inclined toward sentimental cards, the first comic or caricature ones appeared during the 1840's too.