Revolutionary War-era newspaper found in NJ Goodwill
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.
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.