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Collecting Ad Covers that Promote Newspapers

By Dane S. Claussen
NCSA Member #618

Many NCSA members, in addition to collecting old newspapers, also collect books, artifacts, and/or documents related to the history of the newspaper industry and journalism. Few, if any, like me, also collect ad covers representing newspapers as collateral material.

I first started collecting historical newspapers about eight years ago. As a lifetime philatelist (stamp collector), however, almost seven years ago, I started collecting advertising covers and corner cards. Both are names for used examples of newspaper publishing companies' envelopes. Advertising covers refers to envelopes, usually with a matching letterhead, that feature an illustration or some other graphic element. A corner card refers to an envelope that generally has only the name of the newspaper, the city and the state, and perhaps a street address, the editor or publisher's name, and a slogan.

Pure philatelists look down their noses at collecting of advertising covers. They emphasize that if they are collected, the collector should pay as much attention as possible to the stamps used, cancels and other postal markings, the postage rate, the letters' route from origin to destination, etc. In other words, those elements of the "cover" (a general philatelic term encompassing envelopes, wrappers, folded letters, etc.) that are relevant to philately itself -- not simply the historical aspects. This said, I should note that I have a philatelic philatelic exhibit that has won silver medals at three national-level shows, which isn't too bad. (Part of it was tentatively scheduled to be the basis for a monograph published in conjunction with a 1991 regional exhibition in Virginia.) The exhibit, "Philately and American Newspapers, 1850-1925," consists of 160 pages, organized into four main parts to outline the history of the general circulation newspaper publishing industry of that period. They are: Social, Economic and Technological Changes Affecting Newspapers; Key Publishers and Journalists; Newspaper Content and Economic Trends Within the Industry; and Circulation, Advertising and Promotion.

It has been, and continues to be, a pleasure assembling my collection of newspaper-related covers (the exhibit contains less than one-quarter of my collection) and sharing them. People can relate to the exhibit because there are bits of political, technological, social, and economic history within the exhibit. Everyone has heard of Horace Greeley or William Randolph Hearst, and everyone knows at least a little bit about a particular newspaper or journalist.

Starting this part of my stamp collection also came just in time for me as I was beginning to get bored, not to mention broke, concentrating on collecting early U.S. stamps.

Finally, I hope that my exhibit (which doesn't clearly fit in any recognized type of exhibiting) will, along with other exhibits that are partially postal history and partially social history, help broaden philatelic exhibiting. My only complaint is that the covers I have left to obtain to tell the history of U.S. newspaper publishing, some of which may not even exist, are becoming harder to come by. I have been buying from almost all of the major postal history dealers in the U.S. for the last seven years, and I am not the only person collecting such covers for a variety of different reasons. Allow me to share some of my favorite covers in my collection:

  • A late 1880's envelope from "G.L. Fancher, Dealer in Coins, Confederate Notes and Bonds, Old Almanacs and Newspapers, Indian Relics, etc." in Westwinsted, Pennsylvania.
  • An 1860 envelope from the New York Times, then published daily, semi-weekly and weekly, showing its building and Printing House Square.
  • An 1888 envelope from the San Francisco Examiner, already boldly proclaiming, "Monarch of the Dailies."
  • An illustrated New York Herald return envelope with the address, "James Gordon Bennett, Esq., New York Herald, New York City" boldly printed.
  • A (Warren) "Harding Publishing Co., The Marion Star, Marion, Ohio" envelope bearing a plate number block of four of the 1923 Harding memorial issue stamps, canceled on the first day of issue.
  • An illustrated 1915 Dayton (Ohio) News envelope, also bearing the names of the Springfield News and News League of Ohio, forerunner of today's Cox Communications Company.
  • An 1883 Salt Lake City Herald envelope advertising itself as the "Giant of the Rockies" and "Organ of the Western Democracy."
  • A late-1870s illustrated New York Sun cover simply proclaiming itself as having the "Largest Circulation in the World."
  • A mid-1880's envelope from the Mapletown, Iowa, Home Advocate advocating "No National Debt -- No Banks of Issue -- Full Legal Tender Money Plenty -- Government Railroads and Telegraphs."
  • An envelope from Manila, Philippines, marked "Soldiers Letter," picturing Admiral Dewey, and with the return address of "Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Headquarters, Manila, Philippine Islands."
  • A return envelope to the Columbus, Ohio Weekly Press on which it calls itself a "Journalistic Wonder" and claims a circulation of 37,000.
  • And the Alton, Iowa Democrat, which was "A Live, Vigorous, Original, Progressive, Democratic Newspaper. Chuck Full of Snap and Sassafras, Warranted to Either Add to Your Happiness or Your Misery."