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Originally published Sunday, November 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Seattle newspaper collector stacks up all the print that can fit

Richard Pauletti owns thousands of old newspapers, dating to 1970.

Seattle Times staff reporter

ALONG HOOD CANAL — To begin to explain Richard Pauletti's collection of some 150,000 newspapers, let's just say he's in love with what they represent to him.

They speak to him.

Pauletti has copies of just about every Seattle Times and every Seattle Post-Intelligencer published for the past 38 years, plus copies of newspapers from numerous other cities.

When you've got that many papers, they eventually need to be lugged around, as maybe a storage area gets razed or the fees get too high.

"Every time we move these newspapers, I get this strange feeling," says Pauletti, 61. "It's never happened with anything else in my life.

"It's like we were moving the brains of a whole city. It was like moving King Tut."

Pauletti might be one of the few people able to make a profit from an actual printed newspaper. He's been selling copies at $45 each.

When it comes to remembering special occasions, whether a birthday, anniversary or the election of Barack Obama, it seems the Web doesn't quite compete with an old-fashioned, printed paper. An electronic image doesn't match up to something you can hold, touch, frame and place on your wall.

The customer-service desk in The Times' lobby has known about Pauletti for years.

The Times, which handles circulation for itself and the P-I, keeps about two years' worth of back copies. Each sells for its cover price.

For older copies, says Kelly Forde, who works at the desk, "I give customers the 'Pauletti spiel,' as he's the only person we know who keeps copies of the paper. "

Right now, Pauletti has the papers in five storage lockers in the Hood Canal area (he asks the exact town not be named, as the storage lockers have little security) and a couple more in Seattle.

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Not unexpectedly, a guy who's collected 150,000 newspapers falls into the category of "eccentric."

Well, to be complete about the eccentric picture, it should be noted that Pauletti also has collected 500 typewriters, numerous staplers and such relics as a wire-service Teletype.

You see, Pauletti has a dream.

If he builds a newspaper/typewriter museum here at Hood Canal, he's sure the tourists will come. They already come in the summer to their cabins, Pauletti says, and what else is there to do here?

"It'd be like visiting an archaeological site. It'd be a place to go to in the wintertime," he says. "I mean, I've even got a Braille typewriter!"

Pauletti grew up in Wallingford and graduated from its Lincoln High School in 1965. In his 20s, Pauletti says, he began dabbling in real estate, at a time when Seattle was in a recession.

"Back then, you could buy a house for $115-a-month payments," he says. "I'd rent them for $10 or $15 over what the monthly payment was."

By the time he was 24, he says, he had invested in some 30 properties.

Eventually, he says, he bought and sold three taverns. His last, which he owned from 1986-98, was known as The Writer Boy's Ditto in Belltown. It had a typewriter bolted to the ceiling, above the 21 beer taps.

He says he began collecting newspapers after age 22, "when I knew I wanted to be a writer. Before that, I hated language arts and anything to do with literature."

Pauletti, who was briefly married years ago, says he wrote a lot of letters, some long written exchanges over a period of time with women he knew, some a bit more random. He figures he's written 10,000 letters, postcards, lists and notes.

"I'd go by a building and I couldn't stand how it was designed, and so I'd write them," he says.

Having attended community college for only a few quarters, he says, "I constantly wanted to improve myself."

Starting in 1970, each day, he began keeping every copy he read of either The Times or P-I. He wanted the newspapers as reference material for all that stuff he was writing.

By 1983, Pauletti began buying six copies of each paper, storing them unopened. He even bought 8,000 papers that included other cities from a Ballard man who had collected them, run out of room, then rolled and stuffed them into 80 garbage cans.

All of those papers meant finding out the do's and don'ts of keeping old newspapers.

Pauletti boxed some of them, for example, thinking that'd be preserved better from humidity and wandering rats. It turned out, he says, boxed papers turned yellow and broke apart at the fold. Papers laid out flat in the open air did much better.

Rats were only a minor problem, with a couple making their way in, not able to get out and dying amid the newsprint.

In one storage unit, with papers stacked 12 feet high, the stack toppled, hit the wall and buckled it. The old newspapers, filled with advertising, were pretty hefty.

Despite the messy stacks, he does have the papers in a kind of order, and eventually will find the one he wants.

Over the years, Pauletti figures he's made about $20,000 selling back issues.

There was the guy who wanted copies of the papers carrying the suicide stories about Kurt Cobain, when the musician's body was discovered at his Lake Washington home on April 8, 1994.

In a more mundane request, there was the Seattle businessman who desperately needed a particular Sunday paper.

He was bidding on a contract with the city, and a city agency had loaned him its only copy of a story about the project. The man then had accidentally left the paper on the bus. Pauletti found that issue.

"The guy was so excited to pay me the $40," he remembers.

Now he thinks it's time to get serious.

Nationally, there are newspapers that sell back copies, but it is hit and miss.

There is Newspapers Remembered, based in Britain, which says it has more than 4 million newspapers dating back 100 years. It says it has not only British papers, but American ones, though it does not guarantee issues from a particular city.

And so Pauletti has started originalseattlenewspapers.com, offering papers at $45. It's a pretty simple Web site, with not even an e-mail address, just a phone number.

It's sometimes hard for a guy harking back to the letterpress era to get modern. Pauletti is trying.

Last year he bought a laptop. He has yet to turn it on.

Meanwhile, there are all those newspapers to sort.

At his storage locker along Hood Canal, he's helped by Wade Johnston, a local real-estate agent. Johnston mostly listens to Pauletti's stories and plans.

He listens when the subject turns to Pauletti's eccentricity.

"Oh, like maybe he's got a couple buttons missing?" Johnston says. "He's got most of them."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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