Since the late 1890s the Pickens Progress has had its newspapers bound in hardback books to archive. Unfortunately, a fire in the 1940s destroyed our building and most of the archived books. We have only sporadic copies from 1895 through the 1940s.
The earliest editions are mighty slim. During the late 19th century (and for many decades afterwards) newspaper employees had the time-consuming task of setting individual blocks of metal type to print an edition. That, along with the fact that the county had a small population with little news, made those first editions only a few pages long. Each archive book could hold several years of papers.
But as time progressed our weekly editions got thicker. Technology improved and made printing less labor intensive; the county grew which meant there was more news to report; then in the 1990s advertisement inserts were added every week instead of just every once in a while (those are bound in the archives, too). Around the 1970s one book could now only hold one year’s worth of papers. Beginning in the mid-1980s one book could only hold a half a year.
Fast forward to current day: The Pickens County Library had also stored Progress archives over the years, both on microfilm and in hard copy. After their building renovations began a few months ago they gave the Progress their hard copies because the books take up so much space, and because most people use microfilm to do research. Lucky for us their copies were in better condition than ours – but storing duplicate copies of the thick books wasn’t practical. We decided to sell the duplicate copies we had to the public.
Over the years we’ve loved having these archives at our fingertips, being able to thumb through them and read about how things used to be – remembering the events if we were alive, or gaining new perspective if it was before our time.
We’ve enjoyed looking at the old advertisements to see what people bought decades ago, and how much things used to cost. We’ve enjoyed seeing the difference in the way news was covered, the different language that was used, and how that has changed over the years. In the 1950s it was acceptable to write a headline like “Mr. Green Drops Dead Stringing Beans,” but we’re not sure that would go over too well these days. Front page news could be more mundane – events like a Sunday social at church – including how good Mrs. So-and-So’s potato salad was – or a list of people at the hospital and the reason they were admitted (HIPPA apparently wasn’t a concern in those days).
It’s also interesting to see how the paper has become much more narrow over the years – our current editions are nearly half the cumbersome width they once were; and to see how layout has changed and how photographs were scarce originally, but became more prevalent over time. In the early 1900s, every photo was sent on the bus to Macon where a company would turn it into a lead plate and send it back for printing. Until the later part of the 1900s, almost every town had its own locally-owned newspaper and they had their own printing presses. The Progress is now the only family owned paper in north Georgia. But since 1997, the Progress has been printed elsewhere; first in Calhoun, until they merged into an even larger print operation at the Rome News where we are still printed each week.
Last week we ran an ad inviting people to come by the office to purchase our duplicate archives ($5 per edition or $50 for an entire book) and it’s been so nice to see them enjoy these time capsules of history as much as we do. We’ve overheard them get excited when they found the wedding announcement, obituary, or graduation coverage they were looking for. One couple stayed for several hours and left with three full books. Another man who bought four books said he just loved history, but also wanted a specific edition from the 1970s for coverage of a high school basketball game.
We still get hard copies of our editions bound, but since 2012 we’ve had digital versions and digital archives online (and don’t forget the library has microfilm copies, too). Our digital versions are much more convenient to browse – with a handy search feature – but in terms of experience it doesn’t compare to holding a newspaper that’s several decades old.
After a week we’ve sold about half of the duplicates, but anyone who wants to get their hands on local history come by Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays to see what you can find.