I am writing a story set in London in 1923. One of my characters goes to a library to research old copies of newspapers (dating back to 1918). As microfiche was not invented until much later, does anyone know how this could be done. It seems unlikely that the original newspapers would have been stored on site (he is in a local reference library). Was there some technology before microfiche to view old newspapers?

Thank you in advance for any help.

  • 1
    Before microfiche, there was microfilm (usually 35mm wide, no perforations, on a 100 foot or 30 m spool). The viewing technology was similar, though the reduction was less (page images were larger than on microfiche, usually single newspaper pages in a row on the film strip). This started around WWII, though it could have been done with 1890s era 35 mm movie film and suitable lenses.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Oct 27, 2017 at 12:43
  • My library still uses microfilm. :)
    – ezra
    Oct 30, 2017 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


Before microfilm was common, back newspapers were stored in a "morgue." The newspaper itself would store back copies, usually filed by date, in boxes (laid flat, folded as if on a news stand). This was the case in the United States from the time papers started to be more than a broadsheet until microfilm became cost effective (around WWII, I can't tell you an exact date), and I believe the practice came here from England.

Larger libraries would also keep back copies of papers, but not for very long -- a month, two months, perhaps a year for a very large library (and then likely only for major papers like the Times). This was mostly due to space limitations, but also because there were so few request for older papers to make it not worth saving the older numbers. A newspaper, by contrast (barring fire or other disaster that destroyed the morgue or its contents) would keep every edition from opening day until they closed the doors, and at that point, the old papers would often go into storage with one of the principles of the firm.

Many papers (and libraries) had microfilm only for dates after they started filming the archives into the 2000s, having never gotten around to filming back into the older numbers.


If your character is going to the British Library, I can tell you how they store newspapers which they never bothered to film. I went there to read the news magazine Cavalcade, and the magazines are all bundled up together in hardbound books, one per year. The binding looks old, like it was done back in the 30s when they came out.

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