| by David McCormickWhen the Civil War broke out there were 555 papermaking factories turning out paper throughout the United States; but only 24 were in the South. Of those in the South; many were inoperable due to fighting.
Enterprising newspaper publishers then turned to wallpaper as a way to get their papers printed; using the obverse side of the paper for printing. Many of these wallpaper editions were published in Louisiana.
Over the years a few newspaper dealers have highlighted a number of the wallpaper editions for sale in their catalogs. One of the most important and sought-after newspapers offered was the July 2/4, 1863 edition of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen. The first issue printed on the reverse of wallpaper was dated June 16. Further editions appeared June 18, 20, 25, 27 and 30, ending with the July 2 edition, two days before the fall of Vicksburg. The July 2 edition offered a look behind the curtain as to how dire the food situation had become for the citizens of Vicksburg. In this issue the newspaper accused the Confederate soldiers of stealing vegetables and chickens from the city’s citizenry and followed that up accusing the people of Vicksburg of hoarding food. The paper’s editor, J.M. Swords, shared that, out of hunger, he finished a hearty portion of mule meat and declared it “wasn’t so bad.” Another article described a family eating their cat, “poor, defunct Thomas was...prepared not for the grave, but for the pot, and several friends invited to partake of a nice rabbit.” Swords teasingly added an invitation for General Grant to dine in Vicksburg. Two days later the victorious Union forces poked fun at this invitation at editor Swords expense. A July 2/4 1863 issue is offered for sale for $5,850 at Perry Adams Antiques. And an earlier less important June 20, 1863 original edition is offered at Timothy Hughes Rare Newspapers for $2,250.
When Federal troops entered Vicksburg, they found the July 2 edition still set up on the printer. They wasted little time and made edits to the July 2 edition. Running off a few copies, they found Citizen was mistyped as Ctiizen. These were put to the side. They corrected the mistake and proceeded to run off 50 or so copies of the newspaper. The changes came in the last column, reporting the Yankees capture of Vicksburg July 4, 1863 and aiming a barb at the editor, Swords with the following narrative: “Two days bring about great changes, The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has “caught the rabbit” he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The “Citizen” lives to see it. For the last time it appears on ’Wall-paper.’ No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet never-more. This is the last wall-paper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them. It will be valuable hereafter as a curiosity.”
Wallpaper editions of Civil War newspapers were mostly issued from small-town presses. That meant smaller runs equaling fewer papers issued, which translates into more of a scarcity. Many times, these newspapers were mere one-page editions, and when offered for sale, are in the hundreds of dollars.
The wallpaper pattern could raise havoc, interrupting the words printed on the sheet’s obverse, making reading a bit more difficult. The Confederate State, a newspaper published in New Iberia Parish of St Martin, Louisiana, on Sept. 20, 1862 appears blotchy because the wallpaper pattern seems to bleed through from the back. Timothy Hughes Rare and Early Newspapers had advertised on its site The Southern Sentinel, of Alexandria, Virginia, Oct. 24, 1863. The most notable news is “Gen. Lees Official Report.” A row of advertisements has been clipped from the newspaper affecting its value.
There are few of these original wallpaper newspapers for sale; they were never printed in large numbers, and of those, many were tossed aside as worthless. Some were taken home with returning soldiers and tucked away in books and bureaus and long forgotten; damaged and turning brown with age. A newspaper might be offered on multiple online auction sites simultaneously, giving one the impression there are more papers out there than there actually are.
Authentication can be tricky. Some unscrupulous individuals try to peddle fake examples. And as early as the 1870s, early reprints of the July 2/4 1863 issue were run off in large numbers. People can easily be fooled. Today, one can find one of these early imprints, honestly offered as such, at between $100 and $300. To avoid the trickery, one might go to the following site for help. Authenticating a “First Edition” copy of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen, http://exhibits.uflib.ufl.edu/civilwar/authenticating.html.