A burly man with a white beard sits late at night smoking, making notes and fielding phone calls from California, New York and many points in between. He jots numbers on small pieces of paper, then reports them to the various callers.
Welcome to an old newspapers auction. The process begins with a mailed catalogue and ends with faxes and late-night phone calls as unseen collectors bid against each other.
Collectors and just plain folks want vintage newspapers from their birthday, as props for theme parties or as tangible artifacts of history. Even before the blockbuster movie, newspapers reporting the sinking of the Titanic were in great demand. Accounts of Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight are also coveted.
When municipal and university libraries began microfilming their newspapers in the 1970s, they started selling off their old issues to a small fraternity of dealers who actively compete for them. A factor that increases the value of an old newspaper is its reporting of a historic event; and papers from the city or town where the event occurred are even more valuable. Such papers, however, frequently turn up as reprints, the bane of collectors, who are always looking to weed them out.
An interesting twist in newspaper collecting in the past several years is that many volumes are now sold on-line. Even Collectible Newspapers, the publication of the Newspaper Collection Society of America, closed its print edition two years ago.