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Rare Benjamin Franklin-Owned Newspaper Unearthed at Auction Reveals Stunningly Simple Text of Historic Moment


"I wonder about the citizens reading this for the first time."

Image source: RR Auctions

While July 4, 1776, gets all the glory for being the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, just 12 words in a newspaper owned by Benjamin Franklin announced the historic move that came first in the form of a vote on July 2.

"Philadelphia, July 3: Yesterday the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies free and independent states."

That's all it said in the Philadelphia Gazette.

There were so few characters in this message that Deseret News described it as "America's 238-year-old tweet," a nod to Twitter's 140-character limit.

According to Deseret News, only 1,000 copies of the newspaper were printed holding the text that declared independence from Great Britain. It was buried under pages of classified ads looking for runaway slaves. One such copy turned up at an auction catalog last month and was snapped up by collector Brent Ashworth, who last year displayed some of his other rare items at Glenn Beck's "Man in the Moon" event held over the Independence Day holiday.

"I was shocked," Ashworth told Deseret of the copy. "It's a very rare paper. … It's a great piece."

RR Auction lists it as selling for $15,757.18, but Ashworth called its cost "totally immaterial."

"It's the least important thing," he told Deseret. "What something's worth today? It may be worth less tomorrow; it may be worth more tomorrow. What does that have to do with the inherent value of it?"

Image source: RR Auctions Image source: RR Auctions

Image source: RR Auctions Image source: RR Auctions

According to the auction house, the text "containing the first published announcement of the Declaration of Independence" appears halfway down the third column on page two.

Ashworth told Deseret he wonders if the simple text buried under ads was really grasped by those who read it at the time.

"I wonder about the citizens reading this for the first time if they really gathered the importance of that," he said. "Probably not."

Ashworth, who owns a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, said he enjoys collecting because it brings history to life.

"These are real things; they're kind of hard to argue with," he told Deseret.

His issue of the July 3, 1776, Pennsylvania Gazette and his copy of the Declaration of Independence he said remind him of the "real sacrifice that went on in founding this country."

"I guess that's all I'm concerned about. What I'm trying to do through my collection is to make those sacrifices real and the fact that it's worth the sacrifice today, too," he said, according to the newspaper.

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