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'THE TIMES' - Cortina Days … when libraries were just about books

‘THE TIMES’ – Cortina Days … when libraries were just about books

October 31, 2014
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Memories from the days when libraries were just about books.  Yes, that long ago!

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”bubbles” box_color=”#14155b”]The author of ‘Cortina days’, spent many years as a rep and consultant, working with libraries. The title indicates the standard vehicle issued to virtually all representatives during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In those days there were very few mobile ‘phones or PC’s and the lap top was some years away yet. His area was virtually the whole of the British Isles and this meant many years of working ‘a week from home, then a week away’ and so on. The particular area in which he worked was that of bookbinding and paper conservation, in pursuit of which he often found himself with materials in the boot of his car which were worth many times the value of his family home. In those days, libraries worked in a very different way and although the basic aim of ‘to educate and entertain’ was still the same, the way in which it was approached was often very different from that of today. As with libraries both then and now, the aim of these little episodes in the life of a library services rep may also entertain. [/su_box]


During the ‘80’s and ‘90’s, there was a great drive to get as many as possible of the newspaper holdings in libraries converted to microfilm. The basic reasons were that at this time education legislation had been passed, which stated that children studying history should concentrate on local history and also be strongly encouraged to consult the newspapers held in their local libraries as a key source of information.


To really appreciate the wisdom, or otherwise, of this policy it is necessary to understand a little about how the paper on which newspapers are printed has been made over the years. In the 1800’s newspapers were printed on quite good quality long lasting paper and this continued until around 1915, when there was a wartime shortage of good quality timber from which to make the paper and it became necessary to produce it using a much higher proportion of bark, which had previously been discarded as it made the paper look brown. The solution to this discolouration was to add a much larger quantity of bleach to the mixture, thus once more producing white paper. The trouble is that as bleach degrades, it releases acid which speeds up the overall degradation of the paper. The result of all this is that the old newspapers held in libraries had, over the years, become very brittle and liable to disintegrate, especially when in the hands of youngsters who could not hope to appreciate the delicacy and irreplaceable nature of the newspaper they were handling.


So, we had hundreds of libraries converting to microfilm and many thousands of old copies of newspapers, usually bound up in huge volumes, to be disposed of. Of these there were a number of titles which were collectable and none more so than ‘The Times’, which had been in print continuously since January 1st 1788. It is one of the curiosities of life that an astonishing number of people are rightly or wrongly, convinced that their birth and / or marriage, was announced in ‘The Times’ and a great many of them want to have an original copy containing the announcement, which has led to quite an industry involved in the buying up and refurbishing of old copies of ‘The Times’ for sale to such people. In the 1990’s, an, I emphasise, complete set of ‘The Times’, was worth, depending on condition, up to around £40,000. When I say complete I mean one including, the first despatches from Trafalgar and Waterloo, the relief of Mafeking, the Titanic disaster and the start and finish of both World Wars.


‘The Times’, was, as far as I know, also the only newspaper to be produced in a special edition for the Royal Court and both houses of Parliament. These editions were printed on a heavy linen based paper which was so fine, copies one hundred years old are still pristine and white and needless to say, even more valuable.


For some years I had a small business of my own, where I dismantled bound volumes of ‘The Times’ and other newspapers and prepared them for sale, then passed them to a friend who ran one of the companies involved in the sale of original copies, or photocopies of front pages, to institutions and individuals throughout the world. His best overseas customer? Japan.