THE News Letter’s 275th birthday has triggered some exciting finds of old editions of early papers.
Several readers have responded to our request to contact us with surviving copies from the 1700s or 1800s.
One Co Antrim reader has numerous copies from the 1790s at the time of the United Irishmen.
Of all the English language daily newspapers in the world, the News Letter is the oldest surviving title.
It was first published in September 1737, meaning that this month is our 275th anniversary.
We are producing a major supplement to mark the occasion, which will be published after Friday’s Ulster Covenant souvenir edition.
In a bid to illustrate the remarkable history of the paper – almost 50 years older than The Times (of London), which is itself more than a century older than long-established national papers such as the Daily Mail (1896) – we are looking for readers to tell us about their very old News Letters.
We are mainly looking for papers from before 1900, because the last century is recent history in News Letter terms.
We were already aware of some readers who had 1700s News Letters, such as Douglas McDowell from east Belfast who walked into our Belfast office in 2009 with a 1796 copy.
Now other readers have been in touch.
Dougie Conway from Ballymena has a remarkable cache of dozens of News Letters.
“They are the time of the rebellion, around 1798,” he said yesterday. “They are my wife Connie’s News Letters. They were handed down from the family.”
The papers belonged to Mrs Conway’s mother’s uncle, a bachelor called David Gordon Montgomery who was a teacher.
Mr Conway explained: “Connie’s mother was a magpie, and she kept old things. I used to keep her going saying: ‘I’ll make a bob or two off you and all your stuff’.
“For example I have an old buckle, and it says Clough militia. It was the time Britain was fighting America, and they had to mind their back door, in other words Ireland, which was all British, and so they had these militias.”
Mr Conway said the family’s old News Letters contain some remarkable articles.
“There is a great wee story in one of the papers about the ships going to America. There was a man in the ship and it was hit by a storm and his wee ‘uns were in the water, and they lifted him out of the water but the wee ‘uns were eaten by a shark.”
Mr Conway highlighted another story that caught his eye about the people of Rathlin Island pledging allegiance to the Crown. “It was at the time of the rebellion. I think that was only to keep themselves right.”
He added: “There is some great wee titbits from the old papers.”
Another reader who has been in touch is John Harrison, an engineer from Waringstown who turns 30 today.
He purchased an 1806 News Letter from an Oxfam online store in England earlier this year.
He also bought 1828 News Letters from Londonderry via a man who rescued them a number of years ago from a school that was going to dump them.
Mr Harrison, a keen collector of memorabilia of religious, local and political interest, is compiling a book on the centenary of an agricultural event.
He said: “Reading through old media there is a great appreciation for the writing style and fantastic content which was included in newspapers of yesteryear. The papers are a fantastic insight into life of our forefathers.”
We also have heard from two other readers who have papers from the 1790s, and one man who has an early 1800s edition, which we will report over the coming weeks.
The first News Letter is traditionally said to have been dated September 1, in the then used Julian calendar, which translates into September 11 in the currently used Gregorian calendar.
Our research for a major forthcoming anniversary supplement suggests that the first edition may in fact have been Tuesday September 6, 1737, which would mean that the exact birthday was September 17 – last Monday.