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 intrigued.
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.
How and when the paper – which is bound on both sides by glass – arrived at a Goodwill collection point in Woodbury, N.J., is unknown.
Storms contacted Timothy Hughes, a rare newspaper dealer in Williamsport, Pa., who has two 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.
“We get a lot of calls about historic newspapers, and I’m usually skeptical,” Hughes said. “I’ve been dealing newspapers for 42 years, and we’ve probably had five or six pop up with that particular snake engraving. But this was the real thing.”