Commemorative Birthday Newspapers

Back in March 1981 I responded to an advert for "Old Newspapers For Sale" in the periodical Exchange and Mart and later that month I was invited to view the collection. I can remember going to see a guy called Ed in a chicken shed in

North Wales! The chickens had been moved out and thousands of volumes of ex. library stock of old newspapers had been moved in.

It was here that my love affair with newspapers really started. The very first volume of The Times Newspaper that I opened that afternoon contained a classified advertisement, then on the front page, that I still remember to this day.

"Under House Parlour Maid Wanted. £15 per annum, all found."

Wow! This was a genuine Victorian advertisement from a genuine Victorian Times newspaper, it even smelt old.

Just how many episodes of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" could be framed around this one advert alone. From there on I was hooked and went on to purchase a substantial quantity of newspapers from the guy in Wales. Subsequently I purchased even more volumes direct from the Libraries who continued to relinquish their stocks after having microfilmed the papers, in all the Papers Past Newspaper Archive now tops 200 tons.

But as time went on it turned out that, unlike me, customers didn't want heritage Victorian newspapers as their requests came in thick and fast for random 20th Century dates. Dates that were in fact Commemorative Birthday Newspapers. I reacted to what my customers wanted and concentrated on purchasing more recent dates. This was a business lesson that I learnt very early on - sell what your customers want not what you want to sell them.

Papers Past was therefore established and run with great success under the banner "Birthday Newspapers Original Gifts", and the rest, so they say - is history.

I often think back to that ex. chicken shed in Wales and that very first advert that I read. Did the rather grand household in Central London ever find their Under House Parlour Maid? How hard did she have to work to earn her £15 per year? How many fire grates did she clean out? Hopefully she enjoyed her Sunday afternoons off but little did she know that it was her job advertisement that helped establish a now thriving internet niche gift business that supplies original newspapers from stock.

Ian Willsher Archivist Papers Past