Florida Collector Scoops Up Newspapers

Odd Collections, People
on October 7, 2010
Gary Bogdon Lowell Ward collects historically significant American newspapers, featuring blundered headlines, war reports and sports triumphs.

It’s 4:30 a.m. in Lady Lake, Fla. (pop. 11,828), and Lowell Ward, 83, is chomping at the bit for the latest news. He’s halfway finished with his first cup of coffee, and his daily newspapers, The Villages Daily Sun and USA Today, haven’t arrived yet.

Then, he hears a thump.

“There they are!” says Ward, as the papers land on his porch.

Immediately, he walks outside, grabs the papers and drives to the 24-hour convenience store near his home, where he slides into his regular booth and reads both papers, section by section, over his second cup of coffee.

“That’s how I always start my day,” he says.

Newspapers are much more than part of Ward’s early morning routine—they are his passion. His interest began 60 years ago when he found a then-20-year-old Minneapolis Daily Star with the headline “Lindbergh Lands in Paris” in a bedroom closet of his in-laws’ home.

“I thought, wow, I’m holding a piece of history in my hand,” recalls Ward, about the account of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. “Before that, Lindbergh was just a name in a history book. But I learned so much by reading that paper. I never knew that there was a $25,000 prize for the first person to successfully fly from the United States to Paris, or that others had tried it and failed.”

Ward was hooked.

He still has that precious publication, and has amassed more than 500 other historically significant newspapers, including accounts of President Thomas Jefferson’s 1805 inauguration and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Ward’s collection, which includes newspapers dating to the American Revolution, features famous headlines such as “Dillinger Loots Bank” and “Man Walks on the Moon,” and puts him among an elite of newspaper collectors in the United States.

Less than 1,000 people in the United States are avid collectors of historical newspapers. To obtain a treasured issue, they will pay premiums of $1 to $1 million to professional dealers, says Rick Brown, founder of the Newspaper Collectors Society of America and www.historybuff.com.

When Ward acquires a newspaper, he immediately lays it out flat, places it in a plastic sleeve and stores it in a cool, dark place in his home. He never laminates them because the permanent covering greatly reduces their value.

Ward says his late wife, Suzanne, didn’t seem to mind the stacks of papers he stowed under the bed or in other parts of their house. “She liked me to keep busy,” he says. “It kept me out of her hair.”

Although his first historical newspaper always will be his favorite, the most prized paper in Ward’s collection is the Nov. 3, 1948, edition of The Chicago Daily Tribune, featuring the erroneous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline. That paper is particularly rare and valuable because only about 200 exist. The blundered headline became famous when President Harry S. Truman upset Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey and posed for photographs with a copy of the newspaper.

Those two factors—a historically significant event on the front page and very few in existence—are much more important than age in determining a paper’s value, says Brown, of Lansing, Mich.

Since Ward’s “Dewey” issue has no rips or stains, Brown estimates it would fetch from $1,500 to $2,000, if he ever decides to sell it. Which, Ward says, he won’t.

“I had a paper from the Pearl Harbor bombing,” he says. “It said, ‘WAR!’ across the top. I sold it and I still regret it.”

For Ward, the collection, which he plans to bequeath to his sons—Tom, Douglas and Richard—or donate to a journalism school, isn’t about making a profit. His reward is sharing his printed treasures with other history buffs when he displays them at a nearby library, church or shopping mall.

“To me, it’s about reading them and enjoying them,” Ward says, holding a framed Chicago Daily Tribune from Nov. 21, 1863. “Here’s the entire Gettysburg Address printed out on the front page. Can you believe that?”