Decorating With Antique Newspapers   

 By Maurene Mealy

The collecting of antique newspapers is an engaging way to research a specific time period or historical event. The articles and advertisements found in these old newspapers are actual artifacts and supporting evidence of the importance, cultural value and original cost of items being collected. Equal pleasure is found in collecting the printed article as well as an illustration, cartoon or photograph. What better way is there to share them than by decorating your home with the stories told by the journalists that actually lived the event?

Some collectors prefer to find newspapers to accentuate a certain subject they have been collecting, such as war events, sports or a certain personality. However, finding items to correspond to a newspaper that you found can be just as much fun. For example, I once discovered papers between the floorboards of an old home which gave way to an unexpected finding of newspapers that were all printed in 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They had been surprisingly well preserved and in a condition suitable for framing. This discovery led to a WWII theme for a guest room. The framed newspapers became wall art, which were accessorized with WWII patriotic Christmas cards, Valentines, military sweetheart pillow covers, and the hard-to-find "Sons in Services" flags.

Illustrated newspapers were introduced in the United States during the 1850s. The printed illustrations were made from wood engravings in order to be compatible with the processes of the printing press. Engravings have the appearance of pen and ink drawings and are stunning when framed. The Civil War theme is the focus of the foyer of my home and the stairwell to the upstairs. Original sheet music of the same time period was also framed to compliment it. The adjoining foyer is decorated with engravings of President Lincoln, as well as with the artistic social commentary of the era seen in the political cartoons of Thomas Nast.

A specialized photoengraving process called rotogravure was created in early 1900. Although expensive for the newspapers, the financial investment was well rewarded as the improvement in the quality of the pictures was directly proportional to the increase in readers and advertisers. Typically, rotogravures were included in only Sunday editions and appeared as a collage of pictures published to illustrate social and political events, advertisements and the conflict of World War I. The first American newspaper to publish a rotogravure section was the New York Times in 1912, and the technology lasted until 1919. Interesting to note is the insinuation that rotogravure was used as propaganda to influence the U.S. entry into the Great War. It was not uncommon to find a page that included together photographs of prominent socialites, arts, fashion and events of the war. Rotogravure has a distinctive vintage look ­ perfect for Victorian décor.

Newspapers that have been preserved can be found in antique shops, auctions, flea markets and on the internet. When framing, use acid-free materials. Do not let the newspaper rest directly against the glass. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Lay them flat and unfolded when storing.

Books and information on collecting newspapers are scarce. However, the internet can be a valuable resource. The serious collector should try to obtain James E. Smalldon's Early American Newspa-pers: A Guide to Collecting (1964), and Collecting American Newspapers by Jim Lyons (1989).

Most people are curious about history and have been intrigued to find this reflection of the American past so available and will read them with interest, whether or not they appreciate antiques. Collecting newspapers is not common. Therefore, the prices are low, and these paper treasures can be displayed and enjoyed for years to come. 

Maurene Mealy is a freelance writer living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A passionate interest in U.S. politics and history has propelled her to collect antique newspapers for more than 20 years. She can be reached at

Engravings from Harper's Weekly
are used in a Civil War-themed decor.

Advertisements for sewing materials printed as rotogravure decorate a sewing room.

Politics in early 1900 decorate a guest room that transitions from rotogravure to standard newspaper.

The theme, vintage fashion, was selected for a reading room.





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