$200 ‘Spirit of ’76’ paint­ing may yield big pay­day

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Ger­ald Ens­ley

PORT ST. JOE — It is prob­a­bly the most fa­mous paint­ing in Amer­i­can his­tory: “The Spirit of ’76.”

It shows two drum­mers and a fife player march­ing with a 13-star U.S. flag, sa­lut­ing the spirit of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. It was painted for the 1876 U.S. Cen­ten­nial, by Archibald Wil­lard, of Welling­ton, Ohio.

For more than a cen­tury, it’s been a wildly pop­u­lar im­age, em­bla­zoned on posters, prod­ucts and pa­tri­otic pas­times. Dur­ing the U.S. Bi­cen­ten­nial in 1976, it was used on a U.S. stamp. It ranks with the fla­grais­ing at Iwo Jima dur­ing World War II as the most iconic Amer­i­can images.

And for nearly 40 years, Jay Stevens kept his “Spirit of ’76” paint­ing in a closet — think­ing it was just a copy and un­aware it was an orig­i­nal paint­ing pos­si­bly worth more than $1 mil­lion.

“We’ve seen as many ‘Wil­lards’ as any­one and we re­ally be­lieve it’s the real deal,” said Scott Markel, a trustee of the Spirit of ’76 Mu­seum

GER­ALD ENS­LEY/THE TALLAHASSEE DEMO­CRAT VIA AP

Jay Stevens kept his pa­tri­otic paint­ing in a closet for decades. It may be worth over $1 mil­lion.

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