Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Part V - Storing Sunday Comics, A Preamble
Sundays should be stored flat and unfolded. I've heard of some collectors who like to roll them up and put them in tubes, but I find that comics stored that way can easily get damaged when they are inserted and removed from storage. Long-term storage in a tube also leaves the paper with a permanant curl that is not only unattractive but makes them a real pain to read.
When newspapers come off the press they are folded on the page gutters. This fold goes along with the grain of the newspaper and is the only fold you should allow when storing newspapers. The secondary fold that most full-size papers get for delivery and display on newstands (the one that limits us to seeing the top half of the front page) is across the grain and we want to store newspapers without that fold.
If you're not familiar with the idea that newspaper has a grain, you can easily see it for yourself. Try tearing a piece of newspaper long ways (perpendicular to the lines of type). The paper will tear easily in a straight line. Now try tearing the other way - you get a messy jagged line. Much like the wood that the paper is made from, paper folds and separates with ease along its grain, while cutting against the grain is a much harder and messier proposition.
The secondary fold is made across the newspaper grain, and it damages the internal structure that holds the paper together along that crease. We don't want to perpetuate that fold because as the newspaper ages, the paper along that line, already weakened, gets weakens at an even faster pace. When we handle a newspaper that has been stored using the secondary fold for a long period, that line will tear as soon as it gets any undue stress. I have lots of vintage Sundays that look to be in nice condition, but because they were stored for years doubled over like that (before I got them, of course) I have to use the utmost care in opening them to keep the paper at that fold from just letting go.
Another issue is clipping Sunday strips. It is quite common for collectors and fans to clip a Sunday section so that they can store each different strip title separately. This may be convenient, but from the standpoint of preservation it is an unfortunate practice. You may have heard historians talking about "losing the context" of some artifact. Admittedly we aren't dealing with pottery shards from ancient Greece, but the root problem is the same. By splitting a Sunday section into its component parts we lose some of the intrinsic value of the object.
I have plenty of rare Sunday comic strips in my collection that I bought already clipped, and I have no way to learn more about them. If I had a complete section I'd be able to tell what date it was printed, what city it came from, which paper printed it, perhaps which syndicate supplied the comic strips. An isolated comic strip with no date, newspaper name or other identifying information is the equivalent in comic strip history to Egyptian hieroglypics with no Rosetta Stone.
Now to be pragmatic about this issue, I realize that many collectors only care about certain favorite strips, and they prefer just to buy a run of that title. They really don't want to be saddled with complete sections when they only care about one portion of one page. So, with commerce being king, comic sections are going to be clipped to resell individual strips. However, I can say from watching the market that there is a growing interest in complete sections, and they are fetching better and better prices, sometimes more than the sum of their parts. Fans are starting to recognize that complete comic sections are an interesting and valuable historical snapshot of a time and a place. Early Sunday sections, especially those from before the 1920s, have long fetched much higher prices complete than in parts, and the trend is slowly turning the same way on more recent vintages.
My suggestion, then, is that whenever possible you should keep your sections complete. You may find that somewhere down the road, if and when you decide to sell material from your collection, that the extra storage space needed was a small price to pay for the eventual reward.
Tomorrow we'll start dealing with the more practical aspects of storing Sunday comics.
Tomorrow: Part 6 - Storing Sunday Comics
If you want a real challenge, I'll try to dig up a list I started a few years ago of titles that appeared in the E&P syndicate directories but that I haven't been able to verify through my research.
I posted the list on the CSC awhile back and got no response at all, so these are definitely toughies.