Ancient pottery. Pet ashes. A rare painting. Used dentures. Thrift shops around the globe are chock full of valuable items . . . and a lot of junk. This fall, what showed up in one U.S. Goodwill store made headlines.
In October, an anonymous donor dropped a framed document off at a Woodbury, New Jersey, Goodwill. Workers quickly recognized it as unusual. They passed the discovery to Heather Randall, Goodwill’s e-commerce manager. Her department reviews donations that may be valuable.
“It’s like a big treasure hunt, really, because you never know what’s going to come through. Sometimes, the things take a lot of research,” Randall says.
Employee Mike Storms guessed the document was old. He saw small keyholes at the inside edge of the pages. They suggested the papers had once been bound by string. The masthead bore an early American design attributed to Benjamin Franklin: a divided snake with the words “Unite or Die.”
The exact source of Franklin’s severed serpent is uncertain. American colonists saw caution and wisdom in the cartoon; British loyalists saw treachery and deceit. Some people believe the words of Mark 3:25 inspired Franklin’s concept: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.”
The snake-emblazoned find was a pre-Revolutionary War newspaper. It was a December 28, 1774, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal and the Weekly Advertiser. The paper contains advertisements offering rewards for a lost horse and a runaway apprentice. It also features three articles by John Hancock, eventual Declaration of Independence signer. Hancock pleads for the American Colonies to fight the “enemies” trying to divide them.
Auction expert Robert Snyder calls the treasure “unquestionably authentic.” He says this newspaper shows that “everyone was good and mad” at the British. “It’s only three or four months until the first actual shots of the revolution were fired,” Snyder says. “[The writers] obviously had a very strong belief system. They were willing to risk their lives to publish.”
Good eye, Goodwill! There are only three other existing copies of this same newspaper. Snyder estimates its value at $6,000 to $16,000. Goodwill Industries hopes to sell the paper to help fund its educational and job-training services.
Employee Storms enjoyed his historical sleuthing. And there’s one thing he finds ironic about the articles he studied. “With all the anger and angst they have toward Great Britain,” he points out, “they still sign things ‘God Save the King.’”