November 18, 2010
April 16, 1912, issue of The New York Herald. (Newseum collection)

April 16, 1912, issue of The New York Herald. (Newseum collection)

Original or Reprint? How to Tell the Difference

Dreaming of funding your retirement with that old newspaper Grandma saved announcing President Abraham Lincoln's assassination? Tempted to purchase the newspaper about the Boston Massacre that a seller claimed was handed down through generations?

Just because a newspaper looks authentic doesn't mean it is.

Due to the superior quality of newsprint manufactured before 1880, many old newspapers have survived in modern times. But through the years, publishers also issued newspaper reprints to celebrate anniversaries or to provide the public with popular souvenirs.

Exercise caution if you come across a newspaper described as Vol. 1, No. 1 or if the newspaper describes a significant historic event such as the sinking of the Titanic. Even today, publishers continue to issue reprints of these events.

How can you tell the difference between an original and a reproduction? Consulting a professional appraiser is a sure way to find out. To find an appraiser in your area, try contacting the Appraisers Association of America, the National Association of Professional Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers.

But you might spare yourself the time and expense by reviewing these guidelines.

Characteristics of Original Newspapers

  • Before the 1880s, manufacturers made newspapers from cotton and linen rags boiled to a pulp, spread into a mold and dried between pieces of felt. These newspapers have a slightly thick texture and may feel rough to the touch. Due to the molding process, the edges of the paper are sometimes imperfect.
  • Depending on the purity of the rags, old newsprint usually appears white, cream or gray in color. There were times when cotton or linen materials were in short supply, and manufacturers printed on "necessity" paper such as wallpaper, cornhusks, lined notepaper or other suitable material.
  • Typically, newspapers printed before the 1880s are pliable and sturdy. When held up to the light, you may notice watermarks or horizontal and vertical lines impressed onto the paper during the molding process. Small rust-colored spots known as "foxing" are sometimes scattered across the paper.

Characteristics of Reproductions

  • Around 1880, manufacturers used cheaper wood pulp to produce newspapers. This more modern newsprint has a thinner and smoother texture, compared to the higher-quality cotton and linen rag paper. If your newspaper is dated prior to 1880 but does not have the look and texture of cotton rag paper, it might be a reproduction.
  • Newspapers published after 1880 frequently appear brown or yellowish in color, because the harmful acids in the wood pulp paper have resulted in deterioration. This color may apply to the entire newspaper or just around the edges. These acidic newspapers are commonly brittle and fragile, with edges that easily chip. Be wary of items dated prior to 1880 that exhibit these characteristics.
  • The most obvious clue that a newspaper is a reproduction are the words "reprint" or "facsimile" in small type somewhere on the paper. A reproduction may also contain printing errors, advertisements or illustrations that do not exist in the original.

The Library of Congress provides detailed information on its website on the most commonly reproduced newspapers. For a list, please visit http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/circulars/circulars.html

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