It was one of those donations we see a lot. Something big happens–a President resigns, a President is elected, a President dies, we step onto the moon—and naturally, we save the newspaper marking the occasion. We may just save the front page of the paper we read most regularly, or we may rush out and buy every edition of every newspaper we can grab for the next few days. In the days of weekly magazines, we would run out and pick up the ones marking the occasion.
Then we put them carefully away. It’s kind of a marker, one of those historical boulders that the government likes to set out at famous places: the papers show I Lived Through This. And when you run across them in the closet, you shake your head at the memory and move on.
Time moves along, and you reach the point in your life at which you must downsize. OR you pass from the scene and somebody else downsizes for you. In any case, you (or your heirs) run across this collection and say, “This is historic! People collect this! But I don’t want to give it house room: let’s pass it along.” And you take it to the Newberry for its Book Fair.
We appreciate this; we really do. And yet we are aware that, depending on the occasion, half the people in this country might have collected those exact same newspapers and magazines. I’m not telling you to throw these things away: people DO collect them. We just can’t charge a thousand dollars for every Kennedy assassination newspaper that comes in the door.
So it was with very low expectations that I sifted through the Kennedy collection someone dropped off. Not so many newspapers, really: mostly magazines. Life and Look, the rival weekly photographic magazines, of course did major issues on the assassination. Look later serialized William Manchester’s The Death of a President: those were all there. Everything that followed in Jackie’s life was there. And this was a Kennedy collector before the day in Dallas: the collection included the magazines about the Kennedys in the White House; here was a Ladies Home Journal with young Caroline on the cover; there was the happy couple in their limousine headed for the Inauguration (spooky, sitting next to the magazines with the same couple riding in another limo through the streets of Dallas.)
The magazines had been reasonably well cared-for: that is, there was no mold smell. Time had gone by: some covers were a little battered, and some officious soul had ripped off some address labels. But a good collection withal: of things I can charge a dollar for.
But here were some newsstand specials: photo books on the Life of JFK up to the Inauguration, and some later ones on his life up to the Assassination. Here were a couple of similar books on Jackie, dating from around 1962. Decent, and a little scarcer: these might be worth two or three dollars. And wait just a minute.
Yes, here is the issue of TV Guide from the week after Thanksgiving in 1962, when Jackie did her award-winning TV special giving a tour of the White House. And what’s this? Comic books? Here is a comic book version of young Kennedy in PT 109, and here’s a comic book biography of the President, issued around the time of the Inauguration. Tucked away in the pile are a few things which are actually rare. How many people saved that TV Guide? How many of their descendants, seeing it, said “Old TV Guides? What’d they save THESE for?” and threw it away?
See, it’s not so much what you collect, but how you collect it. Don’t just tuck away the postcards of the three hundred castles you saw in Germany; tuck away the menu from the flight that took you there. (Postcards of castles sell for a buck at the Book Fair; I recently got thirty for a menu.) Everyone likes those old 3-D cards for the stereoscope, but families save the educational ones. (Got a great collection of these recently; lots of handcolored ones from the famous Life of Christ series, but I’ll get more for the polar bear.)
Even if you just save the historic newspapers, at least save the comics section, too. It’s attention to detail that matters.