Public Editor

Sorry, but you didn’t really find an 1880 edition of The Kansas City (Evening) Star

It’s been several years since I revisited one of the most common of the evergreen questions I get from readers. Here I’m updating a post from my former blog about why that supposed first edition of The Kansas City Evening Star that you may have found among your relatives’ possessions isn’t what it may look like at first. Sorry for any bubbles I’m bursting here.

Every couple of weeks or so, I get a call from someone who is excited to have come across what appears to be an original copy of the very first 4-page Kansas City Star (then called The Kansas City Evening Star) from Sept. 18, 1880. Often the paper has been stored away carefully by a family member — so it has to be the real deal, right?

Hate to say it, but almost certainly no. The Star has printed untold thousands of replica copies of that first edition over the years. I’ve examined well over a hundred, I’m sure. I’ve never come across a genuine copy other than the two The Star owns, which were preserved in-house at the time of the first printing.

I’ve gotten a lot of practice at identifying the various versions, which the paper started printing in the early 1900s. I suspect, but can’t prove, that they first appeared in 1930 for The Star’s fiftieth anniversary.

Here’s what to look for on a reproduction:

1. Obviously, the words “SOUVENIR EDITION” at the top of the front page. I think most copies floating around out there are identified in this way, but I have seen at least two versions that didn’t bear that notice.

2. At least two iterations were printed on paper larger than the original 13 1/2” x 19” page, with lines indicating where they should be cut. One of these was printed at the bottom of a larger page with a dotted line, and another at the top with a solid line. Check the edges of your copy. If you see any cuts that are even slightly irregular (as if made with scissors), or if you see any black at all at the edges of the page, yours is one of these reproductions.

3. The printing is razor sharp on an authentic first edition. There are some ampersands and “@” symbols in the type, and on the real deal, they’re 100% distinct. On reprints, they’re blobby with soft edges and rounded corners.

4. The most telling detail: The reprints were made by photographing an actual copy of the first edition that today hangs on the wall of the publisher’s office. That copy has been folded, making some of the words impossible to read. One particular example that’s easy to find: Look at the second story in the second column, under the headline “Gun club shoot.” The second line is illegible (see the image attached here). That’s the surest sign you have a reprint. There are other places on the reproduction where type is indistinct. On the real paper, everything is just about perfect.

As the reproductions went through further generations over the years, the quality of the image deteriorated gradually. Today, there’s a digital master to work from, so future copies will always look about the same. The Star is very vigilant about making sure modern copies are very clearly labeled. The most recent one in print was issued in 2010 for the company’s 130th birthday.

Thinking of Kansas City of 1880, it’s incredibly unlikely that anyone would have thought to tuck away that first Evening Star for posterity. First of all, the “collector mentality” of speculative saving simply didn’t exist as we know it today.

And perhaps more importantly, newspapers were even more transitory than they are in our time. When The Star debuted, there were already two other papers — The Kansas City Daily Journal and The Kansas City Times.

An admittedly imperfect parallel: How many people today would think to save the HTML from a new website that they aren’t affiliated with on the day it went active?

If you have one of those many souvenir copies, it’s fun to look at, but that’s about it. I’m sorry to tell you that they have absolutely zero collector value. They pop up on Ebay all the time, usually with the sellers understandably thinking they’re authentic. They rarely find buyers, even at low prices.

Download a high-resolution PDF of the whole four-page paper here.

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