Context, completeness key to newspapers


There are several categories of things people just seem to hang on to. In our personal property appraisal business we see them all the time.

In almost every home, it seems, folks can't toss out old watches -- whether or not they keep time. Haven't we all said "I'll get that fixed, someday"?

Also common are stashes of broken costume jewelry, pens and pencils and family photos.

And periodicals covering historic events. People of a certain age are likely to have newspapers declaring the end of World War II in bold headlines; others have kept every Life magazine that had anything to do with the assassination of President Kennedy.

In today's What's It Worth? we answer a reader's question about her stash of old newspapers. Some are more the 200 years old.

There also is a trip to the toy store to investigate a twisting cat.

Q. I would like to know the value of the old newspaper collection I inherited from my mother, who was born in 1903. It was kept in her trunk and the earliest paper dates to1800. The other papers are from all over -- Seattle, New York, Omaha -- and have stories about the D-Day Invasion and the deaths of presidents Lincoln and Garfield. Will these have much, if any, value? -- Shar in Kennewick

A. Old newspapers can be valuable. There are several factors to consider. First, subject matter; then, completeness of the issue is very important. Collectors want the entire newspaper, every section and every page. Most people just save the first section or only the front page. Those "partials" will only be worth a small percentage of a complete paper's value.

Condition is, of course, critical. No tears, no writing, no tape, not falling apart; that all adds to potential value. How close the newspaper was to the place where the story happened is also very important. For example, a Memphis paper covering Elvis Presley's death will be more valuable than a Honolulu paper. A Hawaii paper covering the attack on Pearl Harbor will be many times more valuable than a Memphis paper carrying the same news.

Most important is subject matter. And that can be tricky.

For example, people tend to hang on to publications that cover big events. Newspapers covering the death of John Kennedy are very, very common. The death of gangster John Dillinger is much more scarce and almost always will be more valuable to a collector.

Since space prevents covering every paper and magazine in the collection, let's take a single example; the Seattle Star's report of the Allied invasion at Normandy in WWII. This is a significant event from the pages of a small, now-defunct West Coast paper. Collectors in this case will be more interested in the fact the Star went out of business in 1947 than the actual story. As a complete paper, it would be fairly priced at $25.

Q. Here is an interesting item I ran across the other day while looking in my china cabinet. I have no idea when or where I bought it but would love to find out more information. The little cat is about 5 inches long. He can twist at all the places where there are lines on the body. Any information would be greatly appreciated. -- Mary in Kennewick

A. Little-known today outside the collecting community, Twistum Toys of Oakland, Calif., made a wide line of twisting animals from 1922-32.

The firm started in Atascadero, Calif., and was -- in its early days -- named after that city. Moving to Oakland in the early '20s, the name changed soon after.

Practically unbreakable, Twistum Toys had names like "Jumboy the Elephant," "Sahara Humpy the Camel," "Hiboy the Giraffe" and "Mascot Tommy" -- the long-tailed cat.

This one looks like the Twistum called just plain old "Cat."

Twistums were made by stringing large wood and wood composition beads on piano wire. The beads were joined with wire swivel joints and the toys can be twisted into unlimited poses.

All were brightly painted and could be as much as 14 inches in length.

The value range is broad. Large dinosaurs and giraffes can be as much as $350. Small Twistums are $50 to $100.

The loss of paint on this example detracts from its value. At a shop or show, we would expect it to be priced in the $60 to $75 range.

* Terry Maurer, Tri-Cities personal property appraiser, is a member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America. For possible use in a future column, direct questions on your antiques and collectibles to What's It Worth? by email to

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