Newspapers – “500 Years of the Printed Word” Exhibit



My father worked for New Mexico and Colorado newspapers almost all of his life (beginning in high school with a school newspaper).  For a few years my brother worked alongside him, as did I.

A distant cousin, Edward Wilkerson Bushyhead (nephew of my ancestor Richard Bark Foreman) was a co-publisher of the San Diego Union.

Richard Bark Foreman’s half-brother Reverend Stephen Foreman worked with Elias Boudinot at the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper printed by Native Americans in the United States.

I look forward to viewing a newspaper exhibit in Raton, New Mexico.

Beginning Tuesday and lasting all summer, the Raton Museum will be hosting “500 Years of the Printed Word,” an exhibit of antique newspapers on loan from Tom Burch, a former curator of the museum. Burch has been collecting newspapers for about 40 years, and has compiled a portion of his extensive print media collection into a special exhibit for the museum. His collection spans a period of 500 years and includes newspapers from Europe, the United States and Colfax County.

…Several of the items in the collection date from the early 1500s and 1600s but look “like they were printed yesterday.” How did printed material last for hundreds of years? Burch explains, “It’s the high rag content. The paper was made of almost 100-percent cotton rags and I think it was around 1840 or 1850 when they started using the wood pulp, and then after that, that’s when newspapers started turning yellow.” Wood pulp is more cost effective but the “life” of papers made mostly of wood pulp is only about 40 to 50 years.

When paper was made with rags, paper mills relied on “rag pickers” to supply them with rags to make the papers. Rag pickers were usually unskilled people who picked up rags from trashcans and public dumps as a means of livelihood.

While rag content contributed to the longevity of the papers of the 1500s era, their availability to collectors is due in part to the fact that they were bound.

“That’s where you get them, out of some of those old libraries in England, Germany and all over in Europe, newspapers were all bound like a book, some of those early ones,” according to Burch. “If you look closely, you can see where they look like they’ve been bound in something.”

Burch preserves his collection by inserting the papers in acid-free plastic sleeves that are in turn placed in acid-free boxes.

Burch’s personal favorite in the collection is the Massachusetts Spy, dated May 27, 1790. “That’s one that always fascinated me; it had Benjamin Franklin’s will published in it. That’s the reason I bought that one because it had his will. He had left $4,000 to Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, a lot of money then, it would be peanuts today, but it was to be held in a trust fund for 200 years,” Burch says.

Two hundred years later, in 1993, while reading the Denver Post, Burch came across an Associated Press article reporting that Franklin’s monetary legacy, which had grown to $2.26 million, with Philadelphia’s share being $586,000, would be used to “teach high school seniors trades, crafts and applied sciences…” The article went on to say that “A committee of scholars studied Franklin’s will and recommended that the bequest to the city (of Philadelphia) be spent on high school students, noting that Franklin thought ‘laboring and handicrafts…are the chief strength and support of the people.'”

Burch says there were periods in the history of newspapers when they were heavily taxed. The imposed tax restricted newspaper circulation to people with fairly high incomes. To evade the tax, publishers often put out their papers in the form of magazines or pamphlets. “They basically were a newspaper but they made them like a magazine to keep from having to pay the tax. A lot of collectors collect just for the tax stamps because some of them had elaborate tax stamps on them.”

extracted from Pat Veltri article in the Raton Range, July 6, 2009


About hopeseguin

Who am I? I'm still discovering just who I am, I suppose. A. Powell Davis writes that "Life is just a chance to grow a soul."

Posted on July 6, 2009, in genealogy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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