If this singular item were the largest diamond in the world, or the original manuscript of Gone With the Wind, or an authentic Monet or Alexander Graham Bell’s patent application, I could take it to Sotheby’s or Christie’s or any of a number of prestigious auction houses and make a mint. Then I could drive to my early morning Saturday runs in a Rolls.
But this one-of-a-kind book does not have huge monetary value. Nevertheless, it is one of my most treasured possessions, given to me as a gift by my son.
It contains 84 pages, 42 sheets of paper printed on both sides. Each page is a copy of the front page of the New York Times, dated on my birthday every year beginning with the year of my birth. From this information you should be able to determine my age. Hint: It’s not 84.
The pages are ensconced in a beautiful heavy-duty cover imprinted with “The New York Times” in its iconic font, my full name, and the date of my birth.
Simply scanning the headlines teaches about labor unrest related to the depression, Japanese attacks prior to Pearl Harbor, German assaults on London, various presidencies, wars, scandals. And segregation. An early entry describes a politician complaining that news was “faked.” One wouldn’t become a renowned historian by inhaling all the information in my book, but there’d be a good introduction to events of the past eight decades.
As I peruse the pages of my prize I’m reminded of my father. He was an electrical engineer working for Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City. Since we lived in New Jersey, he commuted to his job on the Lackawanna Railroad. Occasionally I would accompany him for a special day at his office. I observed many riders digging into the Times.
Of course, opening the paper would create a horizontal expansion destined to infringe on an adjacent rider’s space. So instead of doubling the original dimension, it was halved creating a long narrow front displaying half the columns of a page. A turning technique mastered by the readers provided eventual access to the entire paper without elbowing one’s neighbor. Many years later while I worked at the same Bell Telephone Laboratories, now located in New Jersey, I took the train into the city to attend graduate school. The same technique was in use, but my time was spent on more conventionally shaped textbooks. My guess is this approach is still the norm, for those few not reading the news online.
I have noted with interest changes over the years in the format of the Times’ front page. In the early days there were eight columns of incredibly small print. I can only imagine how much linotype effort went into each day’s paper, and what I was looking at was only Page One. Anywhere from 10 to 15 different stories began on that page.
The first photograph, black and white, appeared in 1944 although some maps were present earlier as World War II heated up. It wasn’t until 1951 that two photos adorned the page. Over time more and more pictures appeared, always in black and white. In 1976 there were four, and simultaneously the number of columns plunged from eight to six! The font size stayed the same and remains small today.
Color photos first appeared in 2001. One of two that year depicted New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani giving President Jacques Chirac of France an aerial tour of the World Trade Center site just days after the terrorist attack of 9/11.
Here are some headlines from more than two decades past. All in some way are pertinent to today. Some are in the category of “Have we learned nothing?”
1936: War on Privilege Vital, Lehman Says. 1951: Atom Scientist Develops TV Tube Giving Both Color and Monochrome. 1955: Governor Calls for Federal Aid to Save Nation’s Schools. 1963: Goldwater Says Test Ban Creates Illusion of Peace. 1971: Young Voters May Change Make-up of Congress in ’72. 1974: Officer Who Killed Youth, 14, Is Relieved of His Police Duties. 1981: A Potpourri of Protesters. 1984: Florida Begins All-Out Battle To Save Citrus. 1987: Iran Campaigning To Bar Sanctions. 1988: Homeless Plight Angers Scientists. 1993: F.C.C. Clearing Airwaves For Phones of the Future. 1996: Conferees Agree On More Coverage For Health Care.
Truly, this book is special.