A normal press run for satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo is approximately 65,000 copies. But the Jan. 14, 2015, issue — the first since 10 journalists were killed in the newspaper’s offices Jan. 7 — became an instant collector’s item and sold out at around 3 million copies. The Newseum was among the thousands of collectors around the world who got copies of the newspaper.
Newseum print news archivist Kathryn Wilmot explains how and why the Newseum acquired copies of Charlie Hebdo and offers tips to new collectors on how to preserve the memento for years to come.
The Newseum acquired three different issues of Charlie Hebdo for the permanent collection. The earliest issue is dated Feb. 8, 2006, with the cover cartoon of Prophet Muhammad weeping about fundamentalism, and interior cartoons reprinted from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. We added the Nov. 2, 2011, Arab Spring issue featuring Muhammad as the “guest editor,” and the newest “All is Forgiven” Jan. 14, 2015, issue. The Newseum also obtained numerous French and American newspapers and magazines covering the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices on Jan. 7, 2015.
The Newseum supports freedom of the press worldwide, and our permanent collection contains many newspapers documenting the struggle against press censorship, dating back to John Peter Zenger’s landmark legal victory in 1735 for criticizing the colonial governor in his newspaper, The New-York Weekly Journal. The Newseum utilizes examples of these struggles in our exhibits and educational programs to further public knowledge of the importance of a free press. This latest attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo reveals that the fight continues, and we felt it was important to include the history of this publication in our permanent collection.
The Newseum’s library already had several issues of the Feb. 8, 2006, issue of Charlie Hebdo, and we added one of these to the permanent collection. The Nov. 2, 2011, issue was purchased from eBay’s French website. To acquire the most recent 2015 edition, we sought the help of friends and colleagues in France to obtain the paper.
When the Jan. 14, 2015, issue was published, the Newseum included it in the “Today’s Front Pages” exhibit in front of the museum on Pennsylvania Avenue, so essentially it has already been exhibited here. Also, the Newseum continually updates its exhibits, and there is always an opportunity for featuring journalism-related artifacts such as these in upcoming exhibits.
Since we are not accredited or trained appraisers, we can’t offer specific advice on pricing. As with most things, pricing is determined by supply and demand, and the high demand for this issue on the day of its publication resulted in increased prices on sites like eBay. Those high prices didn’t hold, though, as Charlie Hebdo printed millions of extra copies, and they now appear on eBay for around $20 to $30.
It’s hard to identify which current front pages will be valuable years from now. The long span of history really determines the financial value of a historic newspaper. Again, supply and demand comes into play. For instance, so many people saved newspapers on the moon landing and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that the cost of these newspapers is relatively inexpensive today. It is much more difficult to find the Oct. 31, 1765, “Tombstone” edition of The Pennsylvania Journal lamenting the Stamp Act, and that’s why it sells for tens of thousands of dollars. That said, the cultural significance of newspapers featuring the “headlines of history” is undeniable, and the value of each newspaper varies from collector to collector. There’s nothing quite like holding a piece of the past in your hands and connecting with the feelings and emotions of that time period.
We are frequently asked this question. We have developed some resources to help collectors preserve their newspapers and ensure they last for generations. The most important tips are to separate the newspapers from other acidic materials, store them flat, and keep them away from light and moisture. Additional information on newspaper preservation can be found in the 2010 Newseum article “Preserving Newspaper Mementos: Tips for Safe Storage.”