Every few months, the Library gets a call from a homeowner who is in the middle of a remodeling project. It usually goes like this: “I was tearing out my kitchen/bathroom/den and I found a page/section of Courier-Express/Buffalo Evening News from [date] in the wall/floor/ceiling. Does it have any value? Would you like to have it?”
The newspaper-in-the-wall discovery is surprisingly common. Perhaps it fell in through an opening the attic, a possibility in balloon-framed houses. Perhaps someone working on that wall left it there on purpose. Sometimes I wonder if there was a folk practice among tradesmen to leave a dated artifact behind to show when they had been there. But this is sheer speculation.
From the dates supplied by our callers, it seems that the newspaper-in-the-wall was most prevalent between the World Wars. A simple Google search on found a newspaper in the wall turned up stories from around the country of papers dated from the 1920s to the 1940s found during home remodeling projects.
So, let’s answer the top two questions from homeowners:
Does it have any value?
Probably only sentimental. IRS regulations prohibit museum employees from appraising (determining the market value) of private property. We suggest searching eBay to get a rough idea of values. For example, President Kennedy assassination newspapers in mint condition are listed on eBay from $5 to $100. In the end, an object is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it. Which leads to the second question:
Would you like to have it?
Thanks, but no. Newspapers stored in walls are rarely in good condition. They are likely to be incomplete, torn, brittle, discolored, moldy, mildewed, possibly even infested with insects. We cannot risk exposing museum collections or visitors to these hazards. You have our blessing to display, sell, or discard your newspaper-in-the-wall as you see fit.
Don’t get me wrong: libraries have been collecting newspapers pretty much since the invention of newspapers. We pro-actively purchase them on microfilm. It is stable, compact, sturdy, tamper-proof, and resistant to mold, mildew, and insects. No one can deface a page or tear a picture out of film.
Here at the Buffalo History Museum, we have over 200 years of Buffalo newspapers on about 6,500 rolls of microfilm. Our microfilm reader-printer machines make copies from the film for $.25/each. Plus, like most libraries, we lend our newspaper films via interlibrary loan to out-of-town researchers. Readers who wish to borrow film need to make arrangements with your local library, who will handle the request on your behalf. There may be nominal fees.
Have you found a newspaper in your wall? If so, please send us pictures and stories to add to this page! And if there are homeowners or tradespeople out there who ever stuffed a newspaper in the wall during a remodeling or construction project, please tell us about it.
Cynthia Van Ness
DIRECTOR OF LIBRARY & ARCHIVES
As a retired librarian and former arcivist, I appreciate your answer. As the owner of an old farmhouse, I want to add one more piece of the answer; newspapers as insulation. Long before fiberglass, builders somtimes placed a second layer of plaster and lathe (strengthened with horse hair reinforcement) and a layer newspaper to haid survival in our harsh climate. I found papers dated 1852. This Federal period is significant for newsprint because antebellum paper tends to be low acid as it predates development of the sulfide process for making paper from wood pulp and the highly acidic product that yields.
At one time there were six French language newspapers in Cohoes New York. From what I’ve heard, most were discarded or used for insulation or other unintended purposes, so there is not a comprehensive collection of these papers anywhere. The Federation Franco-Americaine du New York would be happy to know about any copies of French language newspapers that turn up inside walls in any condition.
My mom just found two newspapers in the walls of our basement during a remodel. Both are from world war two and have headlines about Hitler and the London blitz, but one of them is from the local German/American newspaper written in German!