Newspapers and Periodicals


The American Antiquarian Society is this nation's chief repository for early American newspapers, and a significant portion of research done at the Society draws upon the Society's collection. The primary goal for the collection is to acquire, preserve, and make available for research newspapers published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies. To this end, the Society adds, through gift and purchase, an average of 15,000 issues a year to its holdings. Building on Isaiah Thomas's gift in 1812 of 382 titles in 551 volumes, the Society has accumulated over 18,000 newspaper titles. Today, AAS has more than two million issues on five miles of shelving. The collection is preserved in protective folders and boxes in a climate- controlled environment. 

The collection contains newspapers from all fifty states and the District of Columbia, the Canadian provinces, the West Indies, and Great Britain. British newspapers are retained through the Revolutionary War period.

The collection is housed on-site and advanced notice is not required to use the newspapers. Records for the United States newspapers collection can be accessed through the General Catalog. The Clarence database provides item-level holdings information for most of the United States collection. The Caribbean holdings are currently being cataloged in the General Catalog. Canadian and British holdings are uncatalogued.

The Newspaper Cataloging Manual of the Library of Congress defines a newspaper as a serial publication designed to be a primary source of written information on current events connected with public affairs, either local, national, or international, not limited to a specific subject matter. The Society, however, collects every kind of newspaper, those that fit the definition strictly, those that are really periodicals in newspaper format, such as college, literary, religious, or temperance newspapers, and those that do not seem to fit either category, including advertising, campaign, church fair, or price-current newspapers. Geographically the collection encompasses most areas on the North American continent and the nearby islands.

A Wallpaper NewspaperWallpaper newspapers form an unusual group in the Society's holdings. (Le courrier des opelousas is pictured to the right.) These were newspapers printed on the obverse of wallpaper samples because of the paper shortage in the southern states during the Civil War. The Society has three copies, each on different wallpaper, of the most famous of these newspapers, the Daily Citizen from Vicksburg, Mississippi, for July 2 and 4, 1863. It holds twenty-two of the thirty-two titles listed by Clarence Brigham in his essay on the subject in Bibliographical Essays: A tribute to Wilberforce Eames (Cambridge, Mass., 1924).

The newspaper collection of the Society has grown and continues to grow through purchases, particularly of pre-1821 issues and of issues from the western states for which its holdings are weak, as well as through gifts from individuals and from institutions. Many of the Louisiana newspapers came from Edward Larocque Tinker, while Waldo Lincoln brought together the West Indian issues. The Society's Rowell collection was assembled over a number of years. G.P. Rowell, noted for his annual newspaper directories, organized an exhibition of all extant newspapers in the United States for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Discards from the exhibition found their way into the collections of the Chicago Historical Society. In 1915, that Society donated the issues from the eastern states to AAS, and in 1974 it completed the gift with all its Rowell newspapers except for those from Illinois and Indiana. After World War II, New England institutions sent hundreds of newspapers to the Society. Beginning in 1973, the Society has from time to time circulated to historical societies, public libraries, and academic institutions a request for those newspapers they could not maintain.

Providing bibliographical control of and access to its research materials has been a major activity of the Society throughout its history. This has been as true for newspapers as for any other group of materials, from Thomas's catalog of his gift to the participation by AAS in the United States Newspaper Program, underwritten by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As a participant in the United States Newspaper Program, the Society entered bibliographical and holdings records for 14,000 of its pre-1877 American titles into the national database, OCLC.

The lack of indexes to early American newspapers often hampers research. Brigham's Bibliography contains a title index and is complemented by Edward Connery Lathem's Chronological Tables of American Newspapers, 1690-1820, (Worcester, 1972). Avis G. Clark's typescript "An Alphabetical Index to the Titles in American Newspapers, 1821-1936" is a useful tool for nineteenth-century research. The few subject indexes to eighteenth- and nineteenth- century newspapers include Lester Cappon's Virginia Gazette Index (Williamsburg, Virginia, 1930) and the WPA index to the Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts (Boston, Mass., 1939). In general, newspaper indexes are genealogical in nature, such as the Index of Obituaries in Boston Newspapers, 1704-1800, compiled by the Boston Athenaeum (Boston, 1968) and the "Index to Marriages and Deaths in the Columbian Centinel," a typescript at the Society. Indexes in the Society's own collections are listed in the "Checklist of Newspaper Indexes in the American Antiquarian Society."

AAS has had a partnership with Readex since 1955. This partnership has resulted in the creation of digital versions for several hundred titles available through the America's Historical Newspapers database.

Although the newspaper collection of the Society is heavily used, historians and researchers have yet to realize its full potential. As Clarence Brigham noted in his Bibliography and History of American Newspapers, "If all the printed sources of history for a certain century or decade had to be destroyed to save one, that which could be chosen with the greatest value to posterity would be a file of an important newspaper."


As with many of the Society's collections, Isaiah Thomas's personal library formed the basis of the Society's holdings of periodicals, now numbering around 6,000 titles in 55,000 volumes.

With an outstanding collection of early American periodicals, the Society offers researchers many opportunities for studying the thought, culture, and life of North America through contemporary eyes. A scholar can find periodicals published in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, or in Turkey by American missionaries. Although the holdings are generally limited to titles published before 1876, the cutoff date is extended, as it is in the newspaper collection for those parts of the United States in which printing commenced at a later period. The Society continues to acquire periodicals published in this period through purchase and gifts. It also subscribes to about 680 current periodicals issued by state, county, and local historical associations, as well as by institutions and publishers on American history, culture, and the arts.

Nearly all the eighteenth-century American and Canadian periodicals are represented, as well as a very large percentage of those titles issued before 1820; also available are extensive files of ephemeral and important journals from 1821 to 1876. Unusual and short-lived magazines can be found in the Society's collection along with better-known titles with long runs: one of the first American periodicals, Benjamin Franklin's 1741 "General Magazine;" the first Massachusetts periodical, "The Boston Weekly Magazine" of 1743; or the first American children's periodical, "The Children's Magazine" of 1789. Among the ethnic publications that are found in the Society's collection are the Sioux missionary publication, "Iapi Oaye," of the 1870s; "L'Album Litteraire," issued in New Orleans in 1843 by young French-speaking black men; and the Welsh "Y Cyfaill" published in Utica, New York, dating from 1843.

The collection covers a multitude of subjects: anthropology, antislavery, archaeology, education, fashion, literature, medicine, music, photography, printing, prison reform, religion, science, sport, and temperance. The best run of "The Home Journal," the predecessor to the present day "Town and Country," is on the Society's shelves, as well as issues of "The New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal" (1845-76), the feminist Revolution (1868- 72), and the notorious "Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly" (1870-76). The holdings contain the first English-language periodical in Canada, "The Nova Scotia Magazine" (1791-92) and British magazines such as "Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine" (1817-1904). A special group of religious periodicals are those published by the Adventists, considered one of the better collections outside Adventist institutions.

There is at present no card catalogue for periodicals, although titles shelved with the material on learned societies, local history, and institutions have cards in the main catalogue.

Another means of locating periodicals in the Society's colection is through in-house checklists such as the `Checklist of American Temperance Periodicals' and the `Checklist of American Children's Periodicals.' Some published subject bibliographies are also annotated with AAS holdings. Among these are James Danky's "Women's Periodicals and Newspapers from the Eighteenth Century to 1981" (Boston, 1982) and his "Native American Periodicals and Newspapers, 1828-1952" (Westport, Conn., 1984). All important subject bibliographies are in the Society's reference collection, including Arndt and Olson's "The German Language Press in the Americas" (Munich, 1980), and Eugene Willging and Herta Hatzfeld's "Catholic Serials of the Nineteenth Century in the United States" (Georgetown, D.C. 1968).

The Society acquires all periodical indexes relevant to its collection. One of the major indexes is the "Early American Periodical Index, 1743-1850," compiled by the WPA. It is made up of several indexes for authors, subjects, titles, poetry, and book reviews in articles found in 370 titles. Another is the ongoing "Index to American Periodicals of the 1700s and 1800s" (Indianapolis, 1986-). The Society's microfilm collection of periodicals is small but does include the American Periodical Series for 1741-1825 (Ann Arbor, 1979). AAS microform holdings are listed in a card file, with master negatives also entered into RLIN.