One advantage of pushing this blog into its second year is that I get to have annual traditions. In September, 2013, I did a weeklong series, "Stuff I Love," about objects that were valuable and meaningful to me. This year I thought I would reprise it, but with a slight twist, to differentiate the two: "OLD Stuff I Love," being a look at objects that I've been looking at for at least 25 years. They're so familiar I barely notice them, and I thought sharing them might be fun, interesting, and a chance to look at them afresh. I don't think I'll run it for seven straight days—that's a lot—but let's say three days this week, when I'm not remarking on the news.
Newspapers used to be dirty. Not as in smut, alas, though the Hearst newspapers certainly made a run at it. But in the ink would come off on your hands. Before the New York Times coined its famous slogan "All the News that's Fit to Print," they ballyhooed "It does not soil the breakfast cloth." Yes, that was mostly an arrow aimed at the supposed depravity of The World and The Journal, a way to say, "we're better than they are." The Times, as it bragged in 1908, shielded its readers by refusing to "put before them the untrue or the unclean or to affront their intelligence or their good taste with freaks of typographical display or reckless sensationalism."
But I've always believed (I couldn't find any documentary evidence) that there was a literal sense to that as well, in an era when newspapers would give away pairs of cotton gloves, to wear while reading, so as not to turn your fingers black. Another solution were these metal stands, to both prop up your daily at a readable angle at breakfast and to reduce the time you spent touching it. In a way, they're the precursor of iPad stands.
The circumstances where I bought this are still sharp in memory. It was the summer of 1979. I was going through the Cuyahoga County Fair in Berea, Ohio, with my former high school classmate, Esther Otterson, a girl of overwhelming prettiness. There was a flea market section, where people sold old stuff, Fiestaware and chrome toasters and such, and this was on one of the long shelves of cast-offs. I picked it up and examined the piece of brass. It cost 25 cents. I remember standing there, musing, "Is this worth 25 cents?" A quarter meant a little more then, but not too much more. And I did want to be a newspaperman. There was something Front Pagey about the stand, not that I had seen "The Front Page" at that point. But you didn't have to: just the snub-nosed newsboy, his newsboy's cap turned backward, that lightening bolt cracking across the paper he was hawking. You could almost hear his "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" I decided to be the big spender and maybe impress Esther, so I forked over the quarter.
I've seen these holders on Ebay, sometimes without the ligthning bolt, for $25, so it was a good investment. Other newspaper holders have a roosters and a "Good morning" theme. They remind me that technology has always dogged journalism.
For years I kept it on my desk. It made a good holder for pages being retyped. That's how you improved what you had written before computers. You took your draft, scribbled over it in pen, cut it apart and taped it together, and when the pile got too indecipherable and worn, you piled it next to your typewriter and typed a fresh copy, changing it even more in the process. Loss of that process is no doubt a loss to writing we don't even perceive.
It's always something. Decades ago, newspapers were dogged by ink rubbing off on readers' hands. Now it's the pesky physical nature and cost of the ink itself, not to mention the paper, not to mention the salaries of people doing well and consistently what people now will do haphazardly at times for free.
The brass stand is located directly above my iMac, in a long thin window above the desk in my home office. Usually I see it in silhouette, as it's meant to be seen. Well, actually, it isn't meant to be seen at all, but to be hidden behind a newspaper, keeping it steady and readable. Which is probably why I love it; we both share a certain kinship.