New York Times

New York Times

Here on The Bioscope we’ve had several items on the digitised newspaper collections that are available online, both for free and via assorted subscription options. The latest news on this front promises to be the most significant such resource yet, especially for those of us interested in researching the history of early film.

The New York Times has been available in digitial form back to 1851 for some time now, under subscription. Two things have just occured. Firstly, the NYT has dropped its subscription scheme, and now offers free access to its archives back to 1987, and for articles between 1923 and 1980 articles are available for purchase at $3.95 a time, or a ten-article pack of $15.95 (over a period of thirty days). But the sensational change as far as we’re concerned is that everything before 1923 is now held to be in the Public Domain, and hence is being made available for free.

The documents are available in PDF format only, though keyword searches operate across the whole texct, not just headlines. To access the service, go to the New York Times front page at and type in your search term in the search box, then select the option NYT Archive 1851-1980. If you are searching for a phrase, put this in inverted commas. You can sort the search results by closest match or date – newest or oldest first. Each result gives you the opening lines of the article, then the option to view the whole piece in PDF format. Articles from 1923 onwards give you a free preview of the opening lines. The first few searches are uninterrupted, but then it seems you have to register (for free), for which for some reason they want to know what you earn, your profession, and the number of people employed in your company. You may deal with such hurdles as you see fit.

It is amazing, and I can’t begin to tell the gems and discoveries I’ve made already in just a couple of hours’ searching. I’m still in shock at coming across a letter from 8 October 1905 which seems in all seriousness to recommend filming lynchings so they can reach a wider audience through the Kinetoscope. I’ve comes across Kinemacolor films I’ve never heard of before. And I’ve found such useful things on when terms first became common (I’d no idea before now that the word nickelodeon was in use before there were motion pictures). Though I suspect the first reference to the word ‘television’ in 1853 may be an OCR error… (but take a look at the article ‘Sending Photographs by Telegraph’ from 24 February 1907)

With this, the Chronicling America resource, and other newspaper collections covered in the Times Past and More Times Past posts, the research opportunities are just huge. How lucky we all are.

(My thanks to David Pierce for alerting me to this and other newspaper resources)