Death of Button Gwinnett: rare find in an American newspaper…

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The name “Button Gwinnett” is one most have never heard, yet his signature remains perhaps the most rare and valuable of all Declaration of Independence signers.

Why? He was a relatively obscure figure prior to the war, and he died less than a year after signing the Declaration. Those who like to assemble a complete set of signatures of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence need his signature, and only ten are known to exist in private hands.

The reason for his early death after the 4th of July is a duel. He had disagreements with a rival military commander, Lachlan McIntosh, concerning a military defeat in Florida. Gwinnett & McIntosh blamed each other for the defeat and McIntosh publicly called Gwinnett “a scoundred and lying rascal.” Gwinnett challenged McIntosh to a duel which was fought on May 16, 1777. They exchanged pistol shots at 12 paces, both wounded, with Gwinnett dying of his wounds  3 days later.

The July 24, 1777 issue of the “Continental Journal” newspaper from Boston provides a very rare report of Gwinnett’s death by duel. This is the first we have encountered in an American newspaper.

Great to find an obscure report about an equally obscure but notable name from the Revolutionary War era.

Living in the moment…

April 28, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Blog-4-28-2014-DeclarationOne of the joys of reading newspapers of a bygone era is the opportunity to put yourself in a very special moment in history. One fine example is the report in the August 22, 1776 issue of “The Continental Journal” from Boston, which notes that: “…immediately after divine worship, the Declaration of Independence was read by Col. St. Clair, and having said, ‘God save the free independent States of America!’ the army manifested their joy with three cheers. It was remarkably pleasing to see the spirit of the soldiers so raised after all their calamities, the language of every man’s countenance was, now we are a people! we have a name among the states of this world.

Such editorial commentary brings the excitement of the period to life. This is truly the way to enjoy history–what a wonderful hobby!

The Traveler… the passing of a signer… the sentencing…

August 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

In today’s travels, I found the Salem Gazette of August 16, 1811 carrying a very small notification of the death of the Honorable William Williams. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This also stated that he continued through life as a Washington federalist.

The back page featured a small “Anecdotes” article. One item had what some may consider as a very cruel and unusual punishment. “A Corregidor debating to what death to condemn a man who had committed a great crime, because it appeared to him that hanging was too little for the offence, his clerk, who had a scolding wife, said “Had we not best marry him?”.

~The Traveler

The “top ten”: 18th century…

December 14, 2009 by · 9 Comments 

Continuing with our “top ten events to be found in newspapers” for various periods of time, today we consider the 18th century.

What an event-filled one hundred years it was. As you can tell by the list my focal point is on the American Revolution, but there are other events or specific newspapers which made it into my top ten.

Again I offer apologies to our non-American friends as this list has  a decidedly American bias, primarily because the vast majority of those who purchase from us are American.

Here we go, starting with number ten:

George-Washington-death10) Death of George Washington, 1799 (Front page, preferably in a Virginia Gazette)

9) Hanging of Captain Kidd, 1701 (Just can’t resist a great pirate hanging, he being perhaps the most famous of all time)

8.) Any newspaper with the first installment of Paine’s “The Crisis” (“These are the times that try men’s souls…” has to be one of the more famous beginnings of all time)

7) Full text of the Stamp Act (Certainly a trigger event that would lead to the Revolution)

6) Boston Tea Party (In a Boston newspaper. An event every school kid knows about)

5) The Pennsylvania Journal, Nov. 1, 1765 “skull & crossbones” engraving (Replaced its normal masthead on this date: seen in most history books)

Constitution_PA_Packet4) Battle of Lexington & Concord with mention of Paul Revere’s ride (The beginning of the Revolutionary War. I had one once with mention of Revere–exceedingly rare–great to have in a Boston area newspaper)

3) The Boston News-Letter, 1704 (Great to have issue #1 of America’s first successful newspaper, but any issue from 1704 would do)

2) The Pennsylvania Packet, Sept. 19, 1787 (First newspaper to print the Constitution, & done in broadside format. Need I say more?)

1) The Declaration of Independence, 1776 (Ideally the Pennsylvania Evening Post, July 6, 1776, but the Packet of July  8 would work too as it contains the Declaration entirely on the front page: better for display).

The time lag in news reporting, 1776…

June 18, 2009 by · 6 Comments 

Communication throughout the colonies in the 18th century was a slow process, particularly in winter. It took postriders a week to journey from New York to Boston, at least two days from Philadelphia to New York, and two weeks or more to the Southern states.

connecticut-journal_july_10A good example of the slowness of mail delivery is revealed by an analysis of the printing of the Declaration of Independence in the various colonial newspapers. The first printing was in the Pennsylvania Evening Post of July 6. Three days later it appeared in Baltimore, and four days later in New York.

The list below gives some indication of the time lag distances required, but it should be remembered that the printing often had to await the proper day of the newspaper’s publications as many were just weekly while others were bi-weekly or tri-weekly, although a few of the papers published “extraordinary” issues.


July 6  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Evening Post
July 8  Philadelphia, Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet
July 9  Philadelphia, Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote
July 9  Baltimore, Dunlap’s Maryland Gazette
July 10  Baltimore, Maryland Journal
July 10  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Gazette
July 10  New York, Constitutional Gazette
July 11  New York Packet
July 11  New York Journal
July 11  Annap0lis, Maryland Gazette
July 12  New London, Connecticut Gazette
July 13  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Ledger
July 13  Providence Gazette
July 15  New York Gazette
July 15  Hartford, Connecticut Courant
July 15  Norwich Packet
July 16  Exeter, New Hampshire Gazette, Extraordinary
July 16  Salem, American Gazette
July 17  Worcester, Massachusetts Spy
July 17  New Haven, Connecticut Journal
July 18  Boston, Continental Journal
July 18  Boston, New England Chronicle
July 18  Newport Mercury, Extraordinary
July 19  Newburyport, Essex Journal
July 19  Williamsburg, Virginia Gazette by Purdie (extract; in full July 26)
July 20  Williamsburg, Virginia Gazette by Dixon & Hunter
July 20  Portsmouth, Freeman’s Journal
July 22  Watertown, Boston Gazette
Aug. 2  Charleston, South Carolina & American General Gazette
Aug. 17  London, The London Chronicle

Most historic: The Declaration of Independence in your collection…

March 12, 2009 by · 8 Comments 

I’m not sure there is much of a contest for the “most historic event of the Revolutionary War”. Can anyone make a case for anything beyond the Declaration of Independence? We’d all love to hear from you if so.

My experience is that this document is the most desired to have in an American newspaper, not just from this era but from the entire spectrum of American history.  Well, an exception might be an issue of “Public Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic“, the Sept. 25, 1690 newspaper printed in Boston which lasted but one day and of which only one copy is known to exist. I’d trade that remarkable find for a Declaration of Independence, but nothing else.

A year or so ago I was aware of a Philadelphia newspaper containing the Declaration of Independence which brought over $400,000 in auction. So much for the average collector adding an American printing to their collection, which is why interest has been heightened in British periodicals with the document.

And it did appear in at least several British magazines and newspapers. The popular “Gentleman’s Magazine” from London carried it in their August, 1776 issue as did the “Universal Magazine” and the “London Magazine“. The “Gentleman’s & London Magazine” carried the historic text in their September issue (note: the only American magazine in print in 1776, the “Pennsylvania Magazine”, carried the Declaration text in their July issue).

It’s curious that the “London Gazette” newspaper never printed the Declaration, likely for political reasons, but it did appear in the “London Chronicle” of August 17 as well as the “Edinburgh Evening Courant” issue of August 21. I suspect we’ve sold other British periodicals containing the Declaration through the years but their titles & dates escape me.

With American imprints containing the Declaration likely to remain out of reach for most collectors–but we always hope for that magical find–I would encourage consideration of printings in other periodicals. British titles are the best as there is no language barrier and they are from a country which had, should we say, a vested interest in the event. And their prices are still within the range of many collectors. The “Gentleman’s Magazine” printing are typically under $4000 when in inventory and the “London Chronicle” is still in four figures. I suspect French, Dutch or German printings would have less interest to the average collector, although their prices would be lower when they become available.

The key for any nice newspaper collection is having a period printing, meaning a report from the time it happened. A printing of the Declaration in 1799 or 1826 just wouldn’t have the collector appeal of a July, August, or even September printing from 1776.

How desirable is owning a period printing of the Declaration of Independence to you, and what date, title, or condition compromises are you willing to make to add such an issue to your collection?

Most historic: 1784 thru 1800…

January 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Continuing with our discussion on the “most historic” reports to be found in newspapers, we have been discussing the events of American history by era, the last being the 1801-1860 era. This post will discuss the most significant event in American history of the post-Revolutionary War, 18th century era from 1784 thru 1800.

Much happened in American history during this brief 17 year period but I’m not so sure there are many events which qualify as the “most historic”. From 1784 to 1787 much effort was made to organize the loosely attached colonies into a cohesive whole (see Articles of Confederation as an example), which ultimately led to the Constitutional Convention and the resultant Constitution which remains to this day. Through the ratification process it was evident that more rights needed to be clarified, resulting in the Bill of Rights of 1789. During this same year the first presidential election happened and the federal government was established, and in subsequent years a permanent site was created for the federal government, the Native Americans’ concerns were dealt with as the nation crew beyond the original 13 states, The Whiskey Rebellion challenged the collection of federal taxes, Jay’s Treaty with England was consummated, and growing troubles with France & other nations put greater focus on formalizing a federal military. All these events and more played a role in molding America during these critical formative years.

The Constitution of the United States of America

The Constitution of the United States of America

But the most historic? My vote has to go with the creation of the Constitution. And a newspaper with the printing of this document would be a very prized addition to any collection.

What is your thought?

Finding those unexpected historical nuggets.

October 13, 2008 by · 5 Comments 

Few thrills are greater in the rare newspaper collecting hobby than finding the unexpected historic gem. Those moments of serendipity are the treasures we all hope for at some point in our quest for new additions to our collection.

I have come across many in my years of collecting with two among the more interesting.

Long before the days of the internet I subscribed to the catalogs of the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house in New York City as they occasionally ran Americana sales which included newspapers. One sale offered an issue of the SOUTH CAROLINA GAZETTE from August of 1776. Trying to assemble one newspaper of all thirteen colonies from the Revolutionary War, this would be a new addition to that set. The lengthy catalog description noted some war skirmishes but nothing significant. But that was not a concern to me as I was only seeking a title from that colony from during the war, and the date of 1776 made it that much better. I placed my bid and was excited to learn I won the issue.

Several weeks later the issue arrived. In preparing it for my collection I casually looked over the content, and you can imagine my shock upon finding on page 2 a complete printing of the Declaration of Independence! I couldn’t imagine the incompetence of the cataloger–employed by Sotheby’s no less–who missed this report.

Not many years ago we purchased the newspaper holding of a public library in Massachusetts which includes a lengthy run of a Springfield newspaper, in fact two truckloads of volumes ranging from the mid-1800’s thru the latter part of the 20th century. Knowing the wealth of historical material which could be culled from this collection we put our attention to those events for several months upon its return to our office & warehouse in Williamsport. Some time later we realized that the sport of basketball was founded in Springfield. Could we be so fortunate to to find a report off the very first game every played? Did the local newspaper even report what is now an extremely significant event in the history of basketball?

Indeed they did. The Springfield Republican, March 12, 1892 issue reported somewhat inconspicuously on page 6 an event headed “Basket Football Game” played the day before (which we now recognize as the first public basketball game), with mention of James Naismith who is recognized as the founder of the sport. It was a thrill to find the report which languished for over 100 years, unbeknown to anyone, in the back shelves of a library. Curiously the curator of the Basketball Hall of Fame didn’t appreciate its significance, however the Smithsonian Institution did as it now is part of their collection.

What historical gems have you discovered serendipitously in issues purchased for another reason, or as part of a collection where nothing special was expected?  Feel free to share your stories with other collectors!