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Original or Reprint? A Guide to Noteworthy Newspaper Issues

Boston News-Letter

April 24, 1704

This is the first issue of the first regularly-published American newspaper. John Campbell, postmaster of Boston, supplied written news letters to the governors of the New England colonies for at least a year before he made use of the printing press. His weekly was "Published by Authority," "Printed by B[artholomew] Green," and "Sold by Nicholas Boone, at his Shop near the Old Meeting-House." It was printed on both sides of a single sheet of foolscap paper.

Of this "Numb.I" issue, the only known extant copies are the three in the files of the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, Massachusetts), the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston), and the New York Historical Society (New York), and a fragment in the Harvard College Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts). With as small an edition as this first News-Letter must have been, it is surprising to find evidence of two type settings, but the Massachusetts Historical Society copy varies from the others in many details although the type font is the same. Possibly, the type was pied before the desired number of copies had been printed, and thus had to be reset. Among many variances, it is enough to note that in the first printing the first paragraph of the "Advertisement" at the end of page 2 in soliciting advertising states that "all persons...may have the same Inserted at a Reasonable Rate; from Twelve Pence to Five Shillings, and not to exceed: Who may agree with Nicholas Boone for the same," whereas the second typesetting directs them to, "agree with John Campbell Post-master of Boston."

The reprints of this paper number over ten. Those examined are easily distinguished from the original as follows:

  • The title in the original is of well-formed Roman capitals and lowercase letters. The reprint title is a roughly-cut imitation with heavier, uneven letters: e. g. the "s" in "News" slants decidedly instead of standing upright.
  • The period after the title is round in the original and roughly diamond-shaped in the reprints.
  • The original has the catchword "of" below column two of the first page against the right margin; this is not found in the reprints.
  • The line of Gothic type, "Published by Authority," under the title in the original has in its final word a 2-shaped letter "r." This ancient form of the "r" does not appear in any reprint examined.
  • The colophon, or imprint, at the bottom of page 2 in the original has a length equal to the width of the type on the page page; in the reprints this line is shorter.

Several reprints are broadsides with additional matter in margins and on the back such as: "The First Steam Railroad Passenger Train in America," "First Newspaper ever Printed in America," "Authorities or Proof," "Antique Curiosities," "The First American Flag," etc. The commercial value of the reprints is very small.

Source: Information Circular 5 (Revised 1957).

Library Holdings

The Library of Congress has photostatic copies of the three known originals and the fragment mentioned above (online catalog record).