Hunt for Gazette’s first issue goes on after ‘paper from 1856’ turns out to be 100 years younger than thought
PUBLISHED: 11:20 11 November 2016 | UPDATED: 13:13 11 November 2016
When Mike Prout discovered a stained, fragile copy of the Gazette down the side of an old chair, he rang up to find out if we wanted it.
We could scarcely contain our excitement when he read the date off the front – September 20, 1856. As Gazette nerds will know – and we of course count ourselves among them – that was the day our first edition was published.
It’s a newspaper of which no physical copies are thought to survive.
So we called Julie Melrose at the Islington Local History Centre in St John Street and arranged to have the artefact sent over for them to display.
Mike said: “When my grandmother died in 1958 at my mother’s address in Wood Green, she still had her favourite armchair in our living room. I was only 14 at the time.
“We later decided to remove the magazine bin and found this newspaper trapped between the bin and the wooden side of the chair.”
But when the paper arrived, Julie realised all wasn’t quite as it seemed.
"The oldest surviving copy we ever came across was from February 1, 1897. It was in a fairly delicate state"
While it certainly is a relic, it isn’t actually from 1856 – it’s a commemorative facsimile produced exactly 100 years later. You can tell because the replica is much smaller than the original print run – which was a whopping 24 by 30ins, almost exactly four times the size of the paper we now sell in newsagents.
Veteran Gazette editor Tony Allcock, who retired in 2011, explained: “Over the years I have taken several calls from excited readers who thought they had found an original first edition under a carpet or in an attic, but what they had was a copy of the little centenary souvenir facsimile.
“The oldest surviving copy we ever came across was a copy of the February 1 1897 edition found by a reader carrying out a house clearance. It was in a fairly delicate state and I’m not sure where that is now.”
The commemorative newspaper is now being held at the history centre in Finsbury, which had only owned a microfiche version – so it was still a good find. Meanwhile, the now somewhat optimistic quest for an original first edition goes on.
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