As we approach President’s Day, there is a part of me which is somewhat sentimental about my childhood memories surrounding Washington’s Birthday. I sure do miss it as a stand alone national celebration. I fondly remember my father bringing home a cardboard version of an ax (with a chocolate-covered cherry hidden within) to present to each of us to commemorate the holiday, and without fail, reminding us to be just like George Washington – that is, to never tell a lie. Was there a bit of lore surrounding this sacred event? Sure. Did it teach us a valuable lesson? Absolutely. Somehow we’ve lost the innocence and value of oral tradition, and I wonder if we are the better for it.
Perhaps Washington never chopped down a cherry tree… and my guess is he probably told a lie at some point, but I challenge anyone to name another political leader who, in the face of such power, tradition, and popularity, was willing to hand over the reigns of power with such humility and grace. The Massachusetts Spy, Or Worcester Gazette for March 15, 1797 records much of the proceedings of this momentous event. The link provides access to considerable details. Of particular note is his response to the Massachusetts’ Representatives of Congress who basically asked him, “What now?” His response is precious (see below). Please enjoy!
Considering that the life expectancy of the average male in the 1780’s was dramatically less than it is today, perhaps it is not surprising that this offer from General Washington was considered “…so equitable a proposal…”. Ultimately Congress settled on the full pay for five years option. This report is found in “The London Chronicle” issue of June 3, 1783:
If there is any one newspaper about which we receive the most calls as to value, it would have to be the “Ulster County Gazette” issue of January 4, 1800. This Kingston, New York, newspaper documents the death of George Washington, hence the appeal.
Anyone who has been collecting newspapers for more than a few years has likely encountered at least one of the more than 60 varieties of reprints which have been documented and which exist by the hundreds of thousands. The Library of Congress has an informative sheet which will allow one to distinguish a reprint edition from the original.
As of this date, only two genuine issues have been discovered, now in the hands of the American Antiquarian Society and the Library of Congress. Although the history of the reprints, going back to 1825, is an interesting subject in itself, my thoughts with this blog post are on the value of a genuine issue should a third one surface.
Keeping in mind that historical significance is perhaps the single most important determinant for value, The report of Washington’s death does not rank–in my opinion–on the “top shelf”. The “Ulster County Gazette” issue is a relatively late report with a Jan. 4, 1800 date (he died Dec. 14, 1799), and there is no particular significance to the city in regard to Washington; he wasn’t born there, didn’t die there, perhaps never even visited there (although during the Revolutionary War he was in that vicinity). The Declaration of Independence & Constitution rank high on the “top shelf”, and these documents in Philadelphia newspapers would be premier issues for such reports commanding values well above $100,000 each. As such, the “Ulster County Gazette” issue is famous for being a reprint and not much more.
So, the question is, should a third genuine issue surface, how much should it be worth? Yes, it is a rare newspaper as only two are known to exist, but I’m sure there are other small town newspapers from the era which are equally as rare. In our catalog 177 we will be offering a Providence, R.I. issue of January 1 for less than $2000, it being a first report also with front page mention and much inside page text regarding Washington’s death. But six institutions have this issue with perhaps a few more in private hands. I think some collectors believe the U.C.G. would be worth $100,000 or more, but I would disagree. Yes, it is “famous” as a reprint, and finding a 3rd issue would be neat, but how does this affect value? It’s a late report of Washington’s death in a small town, upstate New York newspaper which has no significance to the life of Washington. Perhaps add some premium for the notoriety of the issue, but I’m not sure I’d want to pay more than $3000 or $4000 for the issue. Step beyond the small circle of serious newspaper collectors and attempts to legitimize a hefty value would fall on deaf ears. Better reports, closer to Virginia, with earlier dates can be purchased for less.
So what are your thoughts? Feel free to share.