Newspapers

Mercurius Caledonius detail
'Mercurius Caledonius', 1661
Full 1661 page image

The Library is the main repository for Scottish newspapers. It acquires through copyright privilege a copy of every newspaper, whether daily or weekly, published in Scotland.

For older newspapers the coverage is somewhat uneven. During the 19th century, at a time when the provincial press was growing rapidly, the Advocates Library — the National Library's predecessor — did not have the room to store newspapers and did not collect newspapers, although they were entitled to do so. There are considerable gaps in our collections both for national and provincial titles, but the British Library claimed a copy of Scottish newspapers until the early 1950s.

The antecedents of newspapers were news-sheets which were small booklets of between two and 16 pages made from a single sheet of paper. One of the first was 'The heads of severall proceedings in the present Parliament'(shelfmark: F.7.d.33) (Edinburgh, 1641) which reprinted news on parliamentary debates from London. 'Mercurius Caledonius' (H.1.e.26) which appeared briefly in 1660 and 1661 was arguably the first Scottish newspaper. It was not merely a reprint of London papers, but contained domestic news such as reports of parliamentary debates, as well as reports from abroad.

Caledonian Mercury masthead
Masthead on the last issue
of the 'Caledonian Mercury'
Larger 1867 page image

Newspapers became more established during the early 18th century and Edinburgh was the main centre for their production and consumption.

Two of the most enduring titles date from this period were the 'Caledonian Mercury', published three times a week from 1720 to 1867, and the 'Edinburgh Evening Courant', 1718 to 1871. There was also the 'Edinburgh Advertiser' (1764-1859) and the short-lived 'Edinburgh Chronicle' (1759-1761).

In Glasgow, the 'Herald's' predecessor, the 'Glasgow Advertiser', first hit the streets in 1783, while 'Aberdeen's Journal', the antecedent of today's 'Press and Journal', was first published in 1748. The Library's holdings for these early titles are comprehensive, though by no means complete.

Dundee Courier detail
Front page of the 'Dundee
Courier' following the Tay
Bridge disaster
Larger 'Courier' page image

During this time, and for much of the 19th century, newspapers had a low circulation — the circulation of the 'Scotsman' in 1817 was a mere 300. They were competing to a great extent with the far more popular and cheaper broadsides.

Two of Scotland's modern daily papers started up in 1817, the 'Scotsman' and the 'Dundee Courier'. Newspapers started to appear outside of the cities too — the 'Inverness Courier' in 1817, the 'Perthshire Advertiser' in 1828, the 'Stirling Observer' in 1836, the 'Falkirk Herald' in 1845, and the 'Southern Reporter' in 1855.

It is worth noting that the early publishers of the Falkirk and Stirling titles also published chapbooks. Like broadsides, chapbooks were a popular form of street literature, gradually to be eclipsed by the newspapers, cheap periodicals and 'penny dreadfuls'.

Finding aids and consultation

There are two of ways of finding out from the main online catalogue about the Library's holding of Scottish newspapers:

  1. Search for the title of the newspaper you wish to see by using the journal title option.
  2. Using the subject search option, type in the name of the town followed by '(Scotland) - newspapers', e.g. Falkirk (Scotland) - newspapers.

When viewing records for newspapers it is important to scroll to the bottom of the screen to see which issues the Library holds.

The Library also subscribes to an important collection of newspapers on microfilm: 'Early English Newspapers 1601-1900' (Mf.83, Mf.921/1, index Mg.11). For further information see http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/atyourdesk/docsupply/collection/newspapers/index.html

NLS is playing a leading role in the preservation of Scotland's newspapers through NEWSPLAN Scotland. We have bought a microfilm copy of all Scottish newspaper titles filmed, making our newspaper collections comprehensive. For further information, see the NEWSPLAN Scotland section.

Further reading
  • Cowan, R M W. 'The newspaper in Scotland: a study of its first expansion 1815-1860'. Glasgow: George Outram & Co., 1946. (shelfmark: Hist.S.68.Ne.C)
  • Harper, Norman. 'Press and Journal: the first 250 years 1748-1998'. Aberdeen: Aberdeen Journals, 1997. (H8.97.932)
  • MacKenzie, Alice. 'NEWSPLAN: report of the NEWSPLAN project in Scotland'.London: British Library, 1994. (Issue Hall.Publ.6.2.4.S)
  • Morris, Albert. 'Scotland's paper: the Scotsman 1817-1992'. Edinburgh: Scotsman Publications, 1992. (HP1.92.1084)
  • Norrie, William. 'Edinburgh newspapers past and present'. Earlston: Waverley Press, 1891. (1891.26(4))
  • Phillips, Alastair. 'Glasgow's Herald 1783-1983'. Glasgow: Drew, 1983. (HP3.83.267)
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