This method is nice and subtle, but only works in some eras.
- All of the 20th Century, at least in Western Civilization, is a go. So far, that's still possible in the early 21st Century, but many newspapers are losing out to the internet and television.
- Larger communities in The Wild West and Colonial Eras will work as well, as movable type goes back to the early 17th Century.
- China, long known for bureacracy, has had several different daily papers for government employees. The Han Dynasty (2nd & 3rd Centuries), Tang Dynasty (from 713 to 734), and Ming Dynasty (starting in 1582) all had daily papers that might be used to find out the date without standing out too much.
- Starting in 59 BC in the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar made public the Acta Diurna - a daily government gazette placed in the Roman Forum.
The more common, and much less subtle, method is to ask some passerby "What Year Is This?"
Game and Story Use
- The Veteran Chrononaut does this instead of asking someone the year - it's a lot less conspicuous. See What Year Is This? for a brief discussion of other options, and the dangers of asking such a memorable question.
- On your way to that Newspaper stand, look up at the sky. If you see any Zeppelins, that probably means you're in an Alternate History.
- The TV show Rome from HBO showed a huge calendar, but I have yet to find a source that tells me if this was factual or a TV embellishment. It was a sort of lattice framework set into a wall, with compartments corresponding to the months and days - a marker was advanced by one box per day.