Keeper of the soul of old newspapers

October 23, 2022 - 08:04
Nguyễn Phi Dũng, 61, an information technology specialist, is known locally as the "keeper of the soul of newspapers" due to his massive collection of printed newspapers and journals.
NEWSPAPERMAN: Collector Nguyễn Phi Dũng in the northern province of Nam Định is locally called the 'keeper of the soul of newspapers' due to his massive collection of 20 tonnes of printed newspapers and journals. Photo courtesy of the collector

By Hoài Thu

A passion for journalism and a love for news in Việt Nam and throughout the world inspired a man in the northern province of Nam Định, to pour much of his life into collecting old newspapers.

Nguyễn Phi Dũng, 61, an information technology specialist, is known locally as the "keeper of the soul of newspapers" due to his massive collection of printed newspapers and journals.

With hundreds of thousands of issues, including the rarest and most precious publications in different Vietnamese historical times before 1945, such as Cứu Quốc (National Salvation), Độc Lập (Independence), and Cờ Giải Phóng (Liberation Flag), Dũng's collection has gained much prestige for its quality and quantity.

He uses an entire 50 sq.m room to preserve and display newspapers and magazines. It looks like a small press museum.

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

Along with popular national newspapers such as Nhân Dân (The People), Quân Đội Nhân Dân (People's Army), Thể Thao Văn Hóa (Sports and Culture), Thanh Niên (Young People) and Tiền Phong (Vanguard), he also has some rare foreign newspapers such as a Newsweek published in 1962 and a French newspaper issued in Hải Phòng in 1886.

He owns the Gia Định Báo (Gia Định Newspaper), which was issued in 1865 - the first Vietnamese romanised language newspaper. It is a precious and rare issue in his collection for which he has been offered VNĐ20 million (US$700).

Father's inspiration

Dũng said he was inspired by his father, who joined a social movement called "Đọc và Làm theo Báo chí” (Read and Do as Newspapers Say) in 1960. Seeing his father keeping all the newspapers he bought to promote the movement and learn from the news, Dũng found it interesting to follow him and help preserve the items.

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

The march of time, war, and sometimes just moving house have caused losses and damage to the collection.

By the 1970s, Dũng became an adult able to support the family and tried to convince his father not to sell anymore, saying he could buy more to enrich the collection.

Their hobby continued even after his father passed away. By 2016, the collection reached more than 100,000 issues and weighed more than 8 tonnes.

Several years later, it has increased to 20 tonnes as Dũng has invested more money and time in hunting for old newspapers from across the country.

"It was information in the newspaper itself that also helped me boldly invest in the business of electronic game devices in Nam Định during the 1980s," he said.

PERSONAL LIBRARY: Dũng uses a 50 sq.m room to preserve and displays the collected newspapers and magazines. It looks like a small press museum. Photos courtesy of the collector

The business became one of the city's leading computer repair and supply chains.

"I am ready to go and buy old newspapers whenever I get the news that some news desks or libraries want to sell them. Once, I paid for a truck to transport many newspaper issues from HCM City to Nam Định. It was a large quantity and took much time to arrange, but I was really satisfied to own them," Dũng said.

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

In his collection, he especially loves the first issue of Cờ Giải Phóng on October 10, 1942. The newspaper's main content was to publicize the anti-French and Japanese policies of the Communist Party, and expose the malicious plots and tricks of colonialism and fascism.

"This is one of the 'oldest' issues, which took me much effort and passion to own," Dũng said.

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

"The longer it is preserved, the more valuable it becomes," he said.

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

In his storehouse on the 4th floor of a big building, he has installed an air conditioner and dehumidifier to regularly maintain a room temperature of around 22 degrees Celsius.

HISTORIC ISSUE: The Newsweek issue of May 7, 1962, is one of the rare old printed magazines that Dũng owns.

With special rare newspapers, he preserves them by wrapping each newspaper with plastic paper, or rolling them up, putting them in cartridges and carefully placing them in a glass cabinet.

"As they are all paper materials, it is very hard to preserve them, especially as the weather in the North is often wet and humid," Dũng said.

Another big difficulty is coping with termites and bugs, so the collector has to keep newspapers on a high floor without using any wood furniture.

Private museum

Dũng has a plan to build a museum of newspapers and cultural heritage in his hometown in Nam Định, which may become the first private one of its kind in the country.

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

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

If the plan comes to fruition, Dũng will use three floors of a five-story building with over 300sq.m area on Trường Chinh Street in Nam Định for the museum.

"The museum will spend more than 70 per cent of its space exhibiting its collection of newspapers and magazines. The remaining space will display my collected items about cultural and historical heritage, including some ancient sắc phong (king's certificates to confer titles on people)," he said.

As an expert in IT, Dũng will also apply technology to preserve the collection.

The display will focus on important national celebrations and anniversaries such as National Day and Việt Nam Women's Day.

The collector said the aim of building the museum was to preserve the values of journalism, particularly printed newspapers, while at the same time helping boost the study and research of old journals and newspapers. VNS