Soul Keeper of Old Newspapers

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JOURNALIST: Collector Nguyen Phi Dung in the northern province of Nam Dinh is locally called the “soul keeper of newspapers” because of his massive collection of 20 tons of printed newspapers and magazines. Photo courtesy of the collector

A passion for journalism and a love for news in Vietnam and around the world inspired a man from the northern province of Nam Dinh to devote much of his life to collecting old newspapers.

Nguyen Phi Dung, 61, an information technology specialist, is known locally as the “soul keeper of newspapers” because of his massive collection of printed newspapers and journals.

With hundreds of thousands of issues, including the rarest and most valuable publications of various Vietnamese historical eras before 1945, such as Cứu Quốc (National Salute), Độc Lập (Independence), and Cờ Giải Phong (Liberation Flag), Dung’s collection has gained much prestige for its quality and quantity.

It uses an entire room of 50 m² to store and display newspapers and magazines. It looks like a small press museum.

Dung neatly stores the volumes on shelves or places them on tables according to the date of each issue.

With popular national newspapers such as Nhan Dan (The people), Quan Đội Nhan Dan (People’s Army), Thể Thao Văn Hóa (Sports and Culture), Thanh Nien (young) and Tiền Phong (Avant-garde), it also has a few rare foreign newspapers such as a Newsweek published in 1962 and a French newspaper published in Hai Phong in 1886.

He owns the Gia Định Bao (Gia Định newspaper), which was published in 1865 – the first Vietnamese newspaper in romanized language. This is a precious and rare issue from his collection for which he was offered 20 million VND (700 USD).

father’s inspiration

Dung said he was inspired by his father, who joined a social movement called “Đọc và Làm theo Báo chí” (Read and do as the newspapers say) in 1960. Seeing his father keep all the newspapers he bought to promote the movement and learn from the news, Dung found it interesting to follow it and help preserve the objects.

However, life was very hard back then, and the father sold old numbers to support the children. Although he was very sad, Dung was still too young to help.

The march of time, war and sometimes simple moving have caused loss and damage to the collection.

By the 1970s, Dung had grown into a support adult and tried to convince his father to stop selling, saying he could buy more to add to the collection.

Their hobby continued even after the death of her father. In 2016, the collection reached more than 100,000 issues and weighed more than 8 tons.

Several years later, it increased to 20 tons as Dung invested more money and time in hunting down old newspapers from all over the country.

“It was the information in the newspaper itself that also helped me to boldly invest in the business of electronic game devices in Nam Dinh in the 1980s,” he said.

PERSONAL LIBRARY: Dung uses a 50m² room to store and display collected newspapers and magazines. It looks like a small press museum. Photos published with the kind permission of the collector

The company has become one of the city’s leading computer repair and supply chains.

“I am ready to go and buy old newspapers whenever I hear that some press offices or libraries want to sell them. Once, I paid for a truck to transport many issues of newspapers from HCM City to Nam Dinh. It was a large amount and it took me a long time to organize them, but I was really satisfied to own them,” Dung said.

Along with his love for newspapers, another goal of preserving and collecting old issues is to help young people learn about the difficult period of Vietnamese revolutionary journalism before 1954.

In his collection, he particularly likes the first issue of Cờ Giải Phong on October 10, 1942. The newspaper’s main content was to publicize the Communist Party’s anti-French and Japanese policies and to expose the malicious plots and wiles of colonialism and fascism.

“This is one of the ‘oldest’ problems, which took a lot of effort and passion from me,” Dung said.

According to Dung, collecting newspapers and magazines is also a form of investment.

“The longer it is stored, the more valuable it becomes,” he said.

Dung hopes his children will also have the same interests and passions, especially a respect for old newspapers.

In his warehouse on the 4th floor of a tall building, he installed an air conditioner and a dehumidifier to regularly maintain an ambient temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius.

HISTORICAL ISSUE: The May 7, 1962 issue of Newsweek is one of the few old print magazines that Dung owns.

With rare special journals, he preserves them by wrapping each journal with plastic wrap, or rolling them up, putting them in cartridges, and carefully placing them in a display case.

“Since they are all paper materials, it is very difficult to preserve them, especially since the weather in the North is often wet and humid,” Dung said.

Another great difficulty is dealing with termites and insects, so the collector must keep the logs on a high floor without using wooden furniture.

Private museum

Dung plans to build a newspaper and cultural heritage museum in his hometown of Nam Dinh, which could become the first such private museum in the country.

The museum is set to open within the next three years to welcome the 100th anniversary of Revolutionary Journalism Day on June 21, 2025.

NATIONAL NEWS: Dung’s collection includes many issues of Việt Nam News, the oldest of which dates from 1996, five years after the first issue.

If the plan comes to fruition, Dung will use three floors of a five-story building with an area of ​​over 300 m² on Truong Chinh Street in Nam Dinh for the museum.

“The museum will dedicate more than 70% of its space to displaying its collection of newspapers and magazines. The remaining space will display my collected objects on cultural and historical heritage, including some ancient sắc phong (certificates from the king to confer titles to people),” he said.

As a computer expert, Dung will also apply technology to preserve the collection.

The exhibition will focus on important national celebrations and anniversaries such as National Day and Vietnamese Women’s Day.

The collector said the goal of building the museum was to preserve the values ​​of journalism, especially print newspapers, while helping to stimulate the study and research of old journals and newspapers.

Source: Vietnam News

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