Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War-era news­pa­per found in NJ Good­will

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - News - BY STEVE HEN­DRIX

Mike Storms was walk­ing among the crowded shelves of the New Jer­sey Good­will fa­cil­ity where he works when some­thing yel­low and faded caught his eye. He paused and pulled from the thrift-store jum­ble a framed sheet of newsprint, dense columns of tiny text topped by a small en­grav­ing of a dis­mem­bered snake.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Jour­nal and Weekly Ad­ver­tiser, it read. The date? Dec. 28, 1774.

It had been sit­ting there for months, ig­nored or dis­missed as a worth­less re­pro­duc­tion. But Storms, a vin­tage watch col­lec­tor and self-de­scribed “lover of old things,” was in- trigued. If it re­ally was an 18th-cen­tury news­pa­per, he loved think­ing of the crafts­man­ship that went into hand set­ting all that type, the clunky screw press that would have pro­duced it, one inky broad­sheet at a time.

And the three holes he saw punched in the cen­ter fold made him think the pa­per had once been bound with other edi­tions, some­thing not likely with a cheap copy.

“I went to my boss and said ‘Look, do you mind if I re­search this a lit­tle more,’ ” Storms said.

The boss said yes and was glad she did. It took Storms only a few min­utes of Googling “Unite or Die mast­head” to learn that such an edi­tion of the pa­per, if gen­uine, could fetch up­wards $18,000 on the col­lec­tor’s mar­ket.

And it took only few weeks to con­firm that Good­will had in­deed lucked into one of only four known ex­ist­ing copies of that day’s edi­tion of the pa­per, still per­fectly read­able 244 years af­ter it rolled — or rather, was peeled — off the press.

“The fact that it sur­vived is just amaz­ing,” said Storms.

The most danger­ous stretch of its quar­ter-mil­len­nium ex­is­tence, Storms said, may have been its months in Good­will hands. The char­ity han­dles thou­sands of tons of do­nated mer­chan­dise, he noted, but with some­thing less than mu­seum care.

There’s a good chance the piece spent some time in a col­lec­tion bin un­der garbage bags filled with old shoes and bro­ken bikes.

The “Unite of Die” pa­per hadn’t made the cut un­til Storms took up its case. He im­me­di­ately con­tacted Ti­mothy Hughes, a rare news­pa­per dealer in Wil­liamsport,

Pa., who has two day edi­tions of the same pa­per for sale, for $15,500 and $18,500 re­spec­tively. He was sur­prised to re­al­ize that the Good­will was on to some­thing sim­i­lar.

It’s that seg­mented snake image that will be cat­nip to col­lec­tors, Hughes said. The en­grav­ing – a hiss­ing snake di­vided into parts, la­beled with the ini­tials of the var­i­ous colonies and the ex­hor­ta­tion “Unite or Die” be­neath it all – was orig­i­nally de­signed by Ben­jamin Franklin. He ran it in his own Penn­syl­va­nia Gazette in 1754 as a way of gin­ning up pa­tri­otic fer­vor dur­ing the French and In­dian War.

“It’s con­sid­ered to be the first Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal car­toon,” Hughes said.

A New York auc­tion house has au­then­ti­cated the pa­per and ap­praised its value at be­tween $6,000 and $16,000. Good­will hasn’t de­cided on how to sell it, although they’ve been get­ting a lot of calls since a lo­cal blog, njpen.com, wrote about the find. They hope it will even­tu­ally land in a mu­seum or ar­chive near its home of Philadel­phia.

MATT ROURKE AP

The iconic “Unite or Die” mast­head stands atop a Dec. 28, 1774, is­sue of the Penn­syl­va­nia Jour­nal and the Weekly Ad­ver­tiser. The news­pa­per was dis­cov­ered at the Good­will In­dus­tries in Bell­mawr, N.J., last week.

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