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Overview of Wallpaper Editions

Approximately 35 years ago I received my introduction to wallpaper edition newspapers when I was reading a chapter in a history text book about the American Civil War. The passage stated something like "due to shortages created by blockades, some newspaper offices ran out of paper so they printed some editions on wallpaper which Confederate plantation owners gladly permitted the editor to rip paper off their walls to use to print his newspaper." My first reaction to this statement was "What a noble way to help the cause." I actually believed this for about five years.

It was about 1969, when I subscribed to the Newspaper Collectors Gazette, when I learned that while some editions of newspapers WERE actually printed on wallpaper during the Civil War, the paper WAS NOT ripped off the walls. Instead, new rolls were used. Actually, I hadn't given the latter part of this statement any thought -- Have you ever tried to peel wallpaper off a wall? I dare say, to find a piece large enough to print a newspaper on would be next to impossible! This goes to show that even high school text books can be inaccurate.

Scarcity of the paper normally used for newspapers forced the editors to use other kinds of paper if they wanted to publish an edition. The South was almost entirely dependent on the North for its paper supply. Of the 555 paper making factories in the United States in 1860, only 24 of them were located in the South, and even most of these became incapacitated by the war. The only ones left in the South were located along the Eastern seaboard and Tennessee.

As you look over a list of known Civil War wallpaper editions, it becomes evident that almost all of them were published in Louisiana. The question arises as to why Louisiana? The exact answer is unknown. Perhaps Louisiana had most of the Confederate wallpaper factories at this time which, in theory, would make easier access. Another possible solution is that, with New Orleans as a major Port of Call for imported items, the wallpaper was shipped in from France or England but there was difficulty in getting the wallpaper to surrounding Confederate states. I haven't seen enough Louisiana wallpaper editions to know if the patterns were American, French or English.

Newspaper editors in the South during the Civil War had to become very resourceful if they wished to print another edition. Other substitutes besides wallpaper were used at times. The Opelousas Courier of August 30, 1862, and the July 14, 1863 edition of the Port Hudson Freeman were printed on brown wrapping paper. The Natchitoches Union extra of April 1, 1864 was printed on blue ledger paper, while the April 4, 1863 edition of that title was printed on tissue paper.

I had no idea just how many wallpaper editions were ever printed but over the years since, in newspaper dealer catalogs, I had seen a few different wallpaper editions listed for sale but hadn't actually purchased any. On a couple of occasions however, Collectible Newspapers has ran an article on the most famous wallpaper edition reprint -- The Vicksburg Daily Citizen.

The circumstances leading up to the printing of the July 4 Daily Citizen wallpaper edition are actually quite fascinating. In the pre-war days of 1860, the Citizen was a four-page newspaper of full dimensions. Even on June 13, 1863, after 26 days of a siege, Editor J.M. Swords' daily account of the advancement of Grant's troops appeared on genuine rag paper. The June 13 edition, however, was, for the first time, a single sheet and only two columns wide. Modest in size and amount of news withstanding, the issue must have enjoyed a demand sufficiently brisk to inspire street-corner profiteering. That became evident when the hard-pressed Swords explained to his readers in the June 18 edition:

The price of our paper at the office is twenty-five cents. Newsboys who charge fifty cents on the streets are not authorized by us to sell at that price; and those who object to extortion should call at the office and get their papers at first cost. We cannot control the trade nor the prices of newsboys and can only sell our papers to them at the same prices that we get from those who call at the office.

The Vicksburg Daily Citizen edition of June 16,1863 was the first of that title to be printed on wallpaper. Others were the June 18, 20, 25, 27 and 30. The wallpaper series reached a climax a few days later on July 2 just before the capitulation of the city. In that edition, articles accused townspeople of hoarding food, belittled Confederate soldiers for stealing vegetables and chickens, and congratulated a Mr. Kiser for sharing his corn crop with neighbors. Editor Swords reported that, out of dire hunger, tasted mule meat and related that it wasnÕt so bad. Another article reported the murder of a cat and stated that "poor, defunct Thomas was then prepared, not for the grave, but the pot, and several friends invited to partake of a nice rabbit". Swords teasingly invited General Grant to dine in Vicksburg. When Grant did arrive in Vicksburg on July 4, Swords fled.

When the Federal troops entered the city, they found the two-day old edition still set up for publication and they reissued it with some changes in copy. The issue of July 4, 1863 is the same as that of July 2 except for the substitution of new copy for two thirds of the last column. Evidently, after running a few copies, someone noticed that the nameplate title was misspelled as "Ctiizen" and stopped the run, corrected the error, and then continued to print corrected copies without destroying the old ones. At the very end of the last column they composed and printed a note that prophetically ended: "This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable here-after as a curiosity."

How right they were! Since the July 2/4, 1863 edition of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen is the most widely reprinted wallpaper edition, it, of course is the most famous. Because of this, an original edition of this date and title is highly sought after with the value reflecting the demand -- $2500 to $3000. Other Civil War era wallpaper editions, while constantly rising in value, can be bought for around $400 each -- when they become offered. Wallpaper editions during the Civil War were always small town newspapers which, of course, means a smaller press run than a larger city. This helps account for their scarcity.

Post Civil War wallpaper edtions can be bought for anywhere from $200 to $500 each. While wallpaper issues from all eras were usually limited to a single sheet, at least two wallpaper editions of the Opelousas Courier were two-page, hybrids. That is, page one is dated April 22, 1863 and page two is dated April 18, 1863. Another hybrid of this title was printed by Confederate printers on April 21, 1863. The first page is dated April 21, 1863 and the second page is dated April 18, 1863. Perhaps the printers forgot to change the date on one of the nameplates.

Wallpaper editions were not limited to the Civil War era. The earliest wallpaper editions were issues of the German language Nev Braunfelser Zeitung published in New Braunfels, Texas in 1852. Documents make reference to several issues being printed on wallpaper in 1852 but decline to list just how many or the exact dates. No reason is given as to why the publisher used wallpaper instead of the usual rag paper.

The 1880's and 1890's also spawned several wallpaper editions. Fortunately, for history's sake, the editors saw fit to explain in a note in the editions why he was using wallpaper. The reasons varied from a blizzard to a quarantine cutting off their supply of regular paper.

In 1881 there was a severe blizzard in the Dakota Territory which forced several editors to resort to publishing some editions of their newspaper on wallpaper instead of conventional paper. These titles, cities, and dates are: The New Er, January, February or March, (issue month or day not indicated), The Exponent, Dell Rapids, April 2, The oody County Enterprise, Flandrau, April 7, and The Salem Register, Salem, May 5. At this time no other wallpaper editions from this same blizzard are known, but it is probable that others do exist.

As a double-rarity, The Salem Register noted above is the only known wallpaper edition of any era that printed the news on both the pattern side as well as the blank side.

The July 6, 1894 issue of The Whiting News, Whtiing, Indiana, noted that the edition was being printed on wallpaper due to a railroad strike. As a sign of just how creative an editor could get when his paper supply ran out, a 1916 edition of the same title was printed on shingles no less.

In the January 19, 1895 wallpaper edition of The Weekly Tribune, Callaway, Nebraska, there is a note explaining that due to financial problems the editor was forced to use wallpaper.

The August 30, 1898 edition of the Feliciana Herald, Feliciana, Louisiana, was printed on wallpaper due to a quarantine extending to Memphis, Tennessee.

The American Antiquarian Society notes wallpaper editions from as recent as 1935 and 1947.

Although it does not qualify as a newspaper in the strict sense, The Newspaper Collectors Gazette, a predecessor of Collectible Newspapers, published one of its 1977 issues on wallpaper.