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Likely the most desired masthead from the 18th century...



Item # 687194

October 23, 1770

THE MASSACHUSETTS SPY, Or Thomas's Boston Journal, October 27, 1774  It would be difficult to properly place both the scarcity and desirability of this newspaper in the confect of American history. This issue has the famous "Join Or Die" engraving stretching across the masthead.
In the same way that the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" issue of the Chicago Tribune is commonly used in history books--typically the photo with a smiling Harry Truman waving it--so too is this famous newspaper when images of a revolutionary theme are needed. What image could better portray within its masthead the revolutionary spirit?
In our 46 years in this hobby we have never located an issue for sale. This is our first.
As engraved by none other than famed silversmith Paul Revere, this woodcut features a giant snake, its reconnected parts labeled with the initials of colonies from New England to Georgia. Thomas made clear in his History of Printing in North-America how this was a formidable animal: “The head and tail of the snake were supplied with stings, for defence against the dragon [of Great Britain], which appeared furious, and as bent on attacking the snake."
Paul Revere also engraved the other portions of the masthead.
This motif was a nod to the "Unite Or Die" engraving used in the masthead of the Pennsylvania Journal for a period of time, with that taken from the same created by Ben Franklin during the French & Indian War.
Although the content within would seem to be secondary to the significance of the masthead, it is nice as well. The front page has a letter "To the Public" concerning the troubles with England, noting in part: "The Minister & his journeymen have for some time past arrogated to themselves a wonderful consequence from the passive acquiescence of the Americans. Because General Gage was suffered to land without molestation...we were therefore made to believe 'that the neck of opposition was entirely broken; that the spirit of the people was effectually subdued'...His foreign measures will force America into rebellion and thus be attended with some dreadful carnage..." and much more.
This is followed by a letter "To his Excellency Thomas Gage, Gov. of...Massachusetts Bay..." which again recounts the tensions growing between the colonies & the mother country. He responds, beginning: "I have repeatedly given the strongest assurances that I intended nothing hostile against the town or country...", signed: Tho. Gage.
The front page continues with talk concerning the tea situation, and a report mentioning the former governor: "...the infamous traitor Hutchinson: his sudden departure was occasioned by a visit from some respectable gentleman...who assured him his continuance in this place was highly disagreeable...". And also a Resolve signed by: John Hancock for a day of thanksgiving.
A truly terrific front page, for many reasons.
Inside pages continue with some fine, pre-war content. One bit mentions: "...letters from Salem assure us that General Gage's ridiculous proclamation was treated with the utmost contempt, torn in pieces, and burnt; none of the sheriffs of civil officers would execute it...".
So much more, too much to mention here, but the photos capture portions.
Complete in four pages, various ink spots to the bottom half of the front page, some professional archival work at the spine and margin, very nicely done. Nice, displayable condition.

Note: The famed Isaiah Thomas was the publisher of this newspaper. Wikipedia notes that it was a heavily political paper that was constantly on the verge of being suppressed by the Royalist government from the time of its establishment in 1770 thru 1776, during the runup to the American Revolution. In 1771–1773 the Spy featured the essays of several anonymous political commentators.
The Spy soon carried radicalism to its logical conclusion. When articles from the Spy were reprinted in other papers, as the country as a whole was ready for Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776), the newspaper had to be removed from Boston to Worcester after the April 6, 1775 issue, just before the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the subsequent siege of Boston, to prevent the arrest of the publisher and printers and the presses from being seized and destroyed by the British.

Item from Catalog 321 (released for August, 2022)...

Category: American