1774 Philadelphia Newspaper Turns up at South Jersey Goodwill

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Just one of a handful known to exist, the historic copy of the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser contains Ben Franklin’s famous ‘Unite or Die’ Revolutionary War cartoon in the masthead.

By Matt Skoufalos | October 24, 2018

Goodwill. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

A rare, historic newspaper from America’s colonial past recently surfaced at a Goodwill processing center in Bellmawr.

Now its current custodians are looking for the best way to pass along the 244-year-old artifact, a Philadelphia newspaper that predates the Revolutionary War.

Heather Randall, e-Commerce Manager for Goodwill of Southern New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia, said the paper came into its Woodbury collection center framed and under glass, but that its previous owner is unknown.

“We don’t know any more than it was donated,” she said.

Randall’s staff of 13 specializes in picking high-value items and collectibles out of the tons of donated goods that pass through the South Jersey processing center weekly. Most are sold on the company’s auction website, ShopGoodwill.com.

Heather Randall, e-Commerce Manager for Goodwill of Southern New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Unique items, like the historic newspaper, are sent out for appraisal.

“We get a lot of stuff from all over, and it’s amazing,” Randall said.

“There’s some really neat provenance to these things.”

An analysis returned by Robert Snyder of the New York, New York-based Cohasco, Inc. identified the paper as “unquestionably authentic” and “of perennial desirability.”

The only other known copies of the paper from that date are stored at Illinois State University, the University of Chicago, and Yale.

The December 28, 1774 edition, which was printed by William and Thomas Bradford of Philadelphia, is one of a few with the “short-lived ‘Unite or Die’ masthead” known to have survived today, Snyder wrote.

Just four months after it was printed, the first shots of the American Revolutionary War were fired at Lexington and Concord.

Exterior pages of the Dec. 28, 1774 edition of the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

According to Snyder, the stories published in the issue in question also lend additional historical significance to the find:

“Content including the extensive ‘American Independence…’ serial adds additional value and interest; this perfectly dramatizes the masthead, presaging the Declaration which would be proclaimed less than two years thence. We also note reference to the “cruel and iniquitous Boston Port Bill,” casting light on the Boston Tea Party, and (at least) three additional messages signed in type by John Hancock as Pres. of the Provincial Congress. Other luminaries mentioned elsewhere include John Dunlap, Benjamin Rush, and Anthony Wayne.”

The paper also includes ephemera of local interest, including advertisements for lectures by famous Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush.

“There are connections there that we’re not even aware of,” Randall said. “That’s what’s so interesting.”

Randall’s department has processed all kinds of oddities, including a taxidermied dog that may have been involved in an early genetic experiment, and a confusing piece of technology later revealed to be apparatus for a noodle vendor’s street cart.

Goodwill e-commerce specialist Teddy Rebstock cleans up a Star Wars toy for sale. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“We learn a lot doing this,” Randall said. “It’s like a treasure hunt every day.”

Even for treasure hunters, however, an original copy of a colonial-era newspaper is quite a find. Randall said Goodwill would ideally like to place it with a museum or private collector.

Snyder’s analysis suggested the paper could fetch between $6,000 and $16,000 through the right brokerage, and even more in a few years, on the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

It was listed for auction on the Goodwill site, but failed to net a bid.

“We were trying to get it back home, or in the hands of a collector or somebody who would be interested it,” Randall said.

“Our website doesn’t necessarily collect all these collectors; it’s not the right audience for it,” she said.

The Goodwill Bellmawr warehouse processes tons of donated goods annually. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“It needs to be going to someplace where they know the importance of the documentation.”

In the meantime, she’s contacting auction houses that “have the shopping lists of the right buyers.

“It’s up to our department to look at it, test it, put our feelers out for it,” Randall said.

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