Paperman! The Wonderful World of News Papers

Being a journalist, R.Vaidyanathan (retired as Assistant Editor- Sports, The Hindu) was always interested and wanted to collect newspapers. When of one of his friends’ introduced to him, there started an interesting journey of collecting very old and rare newspapers. Vaidyanathan has been collecting rare news papers for the past 10 years and he specializes in Indian History, mainly South Indian. He started collecting newspapers related to Indian Mutiny of 1857 and later Carnatic wars as these two events were recent in history. His interest in History helped him to concentrate more on last days of Mughal Empire. He has papers reporting the Anglo Dutch war of 1760, Aurangazeb’s attack against Sivaji’s son, Sambhaji and ‘the seizure of Goa’. The paper describes in detail the arrangements made by Aurangazeb for the war. His collection includes the National Herald dated 1857, the day the mutiny started, featuring the Portrait of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor. 1858 when the mutiny was suppressed and later, in 1862 when The British Empress seized the Mughal Empire that resulted in sealing the British rule in India. Now he is doing more research to write a paper on the Sepoy Mutiny as it had happened. Lots of scholars and journalists come for reference says Vaidyanathan. He also has the paper featuring Nana Sahib on the cover page. There is a impressive collection of news related to Major General Robert Clive, as his contribution to Madras presidency was innumerable.

So far Vaidyanathan has spent Rs.25, 000 to 30,000 for his collection. The value for a paper depends on the condition, says Vaidyanathan. A non circulated paper, in a very good condition may cost $200-300.

The beginning of News collection

Vaidyanathan shares an interesting story of how collecting of news began. Way back in China, they had a tradition where one person, in a note book would record the various news or events happening in and around his village, once he is done, he would pass on the book to another person in the neighbouring village and that person would in turn continue the same process. The book would travel the entire province, and once filled with news, would return to library where anyone could read and refer it

Authentic papers

Vaidyanathan explains how to find the genuine news paper.” Earlier news papers were printed in Laid papers, a paper made on wire molds that give it a characteristic watermark of close thin lines (10, 12 or 16 lines per inch). The pattern could be seen when one looked through the sheet. Nowadays this technology of printing news papers is no longer in use and nobody can duplicate this. These lines are the proof that the paper is not a duplicate one.

Learn History through News Papers

These news papers show the true picture about the incidents of the past. The reporting was unbiased. Sir James Campbell attaching the Marathas and vice versa were reported with same vigour. How Lord Cornwallis treated the sons of Tipu Sultan. “The best way to learn History is by reading news papers and not through text books, says Vaidyanathan. First, what news papers do is reporting of an incident that happens as it is there for there would not be any bias. Second as in the case of text books or History related books, the events are recorded after so many years and it could be biased.

 Dedication and Passion

The news reporting of yester years were more authentic and there was lots of passion, says Vaidyanathan. He cites some examples from his collection. The special edition celebrating the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 by London Chronicle has a huge six column at picture of The Queen and on the reverse side it is blank so if somebody wanted to frame the picture, you could cut the picture and no news would be lost. Another one being a detailed sketch of the Procession of Queen Victoria during Diamond Jubilee celebration of her coronation. The News Paper appointed an artist, who sat on top of the St Paul’s cathedral and visualise the entire procession. These days nobody takes this much pain but you just take some stock image and print it. Another example shows the level of detailing has gone through while reporting. This being the map of India in Harper’s Weekly, published from New York in 1857. The map is 3D map, where Himalayas were shown as high altitude areas, sea coast are shown with low altitude, in that Calicut is much higher when compared to Chennai. Mumbai and Kolkatta are shown like Islands. His collection also includes the news on invention of motion picture exhibition device, Kinetoscopic picture by Thomas Alva Edison, The copy of Illustrated London News that featured the first official cricket team photo in India when a test match was played in 1864, Jan 5-7 between Madras and Calcutta and Madras won the test match.

Maps, Autographs and Coins

News papers are not the only thing that Vaidyanathan collect. He has an impressive collection of rare maps, autographs of well known personalities and rare coins. His collection of maps includes one from 1862. “In earlier days various crimes were committed for maps as those who were in possession of the maps were the one who knew routes, mainly sea routes”. Another passion being collecting Autographs of people who are first in their fields. Be it the first president and Prime Minister of India, Presidents of United States of America, first woman to go on space or first man to land on moon. Vaidyanathan is also the president of Madras Coin Society, an organisation of coin collectors.


So what is the message of Vaidyanathan to people who are passionate about collecting various things? Select a topic and start collecting. Apply the basic principle of research. Everything has a beginning, try to go back to the roots. “For example if one is interested in Films, start collecting from the first film way back in 1892, then go further down, to theatres and you will end up in Rome”. With the advent of internet, it is easy nowadays to collect things, what you require is passion and perseverance.

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