The microfilm reel grabbed at random this week contained The Puyallup Valley Tribune. The following article was found on the front page of the issue for January 14, 1922:
“122-Year-Old” Newspapers Are Well Preserved
“Some people are willing to admit that ‘Barnum was right.’”
“Others insist on absolute proof. Many schemes have been formulated to substantiate Mr. Barnum’s observations, but one of the latest is the ‘old newspaper’ gag.”
“A man in Tacoma announced on Monday that he had a copy of the Ulster County Gazette, published in Kingston, N.Y., on January 4, 1800. The funeral of George Washington was described, and the column rules were inverted to produce a black border.”
“Since Monday several persons have admitted that they have copies of the same issue that have been ‘handed down’ from generation to generation. Those who have seen the copies remark how well they have been preserved.”
“Major Kryger, fire truck driver, has one on display at the city hall. One man is said to have admitted that he paid $1.50 for his copy. A stranger told him that he was parting with the relic because he needed for food.”
As it happens, the Ulster County Gazette for January 4, 1800 is possibly the most reprinted single issue of a newspaper in American history, starting in the 1820s. Some Americana dealers have estimated more than 200 versions exist out there. In its Information Circular 1 (rev. 1958), the Library of Congress states, “The Ulster County Gazette was established May 5, 1798, at Kingston, New York, by Samuel Freer and Son. It was a weekly supporting the Federalist Party. Publication continued until 1803, when the title was changed to Ulster Gazette and the publisher was Samuel S. Freer, the ‘Son’ of the earlier partnership.”
“Reproductions of the issue for January 4, 1800, are well known to librarians and dealers in old books through the great number of reprints that are scattered over every part of the country … Almost every private owner of one of these honestly believes that he has an original copy. At the same time, only a few original copies of other numbers of the same paper are in existence.”
“Librarians watched many years for an original, but it was not until November 1930 that the first was found. This is now in the files of the Library of Congress. Another original is now in the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts. These are the only originals known.” LC goes on to describe in detail the methods for identifying the original.The Gazette captured the attention of Washington State historian Edmond S. Meany. His essay originally appeared in the Washington Historical Quarterly (v. 22, no. 1 Jan. 1931) and was later reprinted as a monograph. The Washington State Library has both versions.
Prof. Meany: “It is undoubtedly true that original copies existed and were used when the first reprints were made. The motives for those earlier reprints were probably sentimental and patriotic, to celebrate an anniversary of the paper or of Washington’s death. In later years the motives were quite mercenary.”
Major Kryger, the Puyallup fire truck driver, was not a Major in rank. Major was his actual first name. He died in 1926 at the age of 35.
The very real and authentic Puyallup Valley Tribune, which ran from 1903-1966 is available on microfilm at WSL either in-house or interlibrary loan. It is an ancestor to today’s Herald (Puyallup, Wash.).