The Second Boston Massacre
The Bloody Massacre in King-Street Boston on March 5th, 1770.
By Bruce McKinney
At the Dedham, Massachusetts auction house Grogan & Co. the Boston Massacre was recently reenacted. This time the red coats were on paper and instead of shots there were bids. In fact ten telephone bidders, all pre-qualified as being willing and able to pay at least seven times the high estimate, were allocated phone lines to bid from remote locations. In the room waited the eventual winner as well as the under-bidder. What were they after?
It is called "The Bloody Massacre in King-Street Boston on March 5th, 1770." It was engraved by Paul Revere and then hand colored. It is an arresting and important image from the estate of Elizabeth Bradford Storer, a spinster, who was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and also a patron of the arts. The principal parts of her estate were auctioned this past spring while the contents of eight trunks, deemed less important, were set aside for a later sale. When these trunks were then examined one of Grogan's appraisers identified the massacre image at sight.
In their recent catalogue description here is how Grogan described the lot.
THE BLOODY MASSACRE, PERPETRATED IN KING STREET BOSTON ON MARCH 5TH, 1770... engraving with hand coloring on laid paper; 10 1/4 x 9 1/8 inches; Property from the Estate of Elizabeth Storer, Needham, Massachusetts;
Note: According to Clarence S. Brigham "Paul Revere's Boston Massacre is the most desirable of all of his engravings. It is the corner-stone of any American collection." The engraving was first distributed by itself as a handbill and later was incorporated into newspaper accounts of the incident. A cut down version of this print was used again by Revere in 1775 when he was commissioned to engrave Massachusetts paper money in 10, 12 and 18 shilling notes. According to Brigham, the original copper plate used is now housed in the he Archives Office at the State House in Boston. (Clarence S. Brigham, Paul Revere's Engravings, 1954, pp. 41-57)
Their estimate was $2,000 to $4,000.
The description appears to be consistent with the first printing but there was a re-strike of this image in 1832 and the auction house sought, without specifically mentioning it, to allow for the possibility this example was the re-strike. They could not preclude it.
The Second Boston Massacre
First impressions of this item have been selling for many, many times this estimate for years. In fact Grogan themselves sold one fifteen years ago for about $30,000. The first strike is an acclaimed rarity and the re-strike simply an attractive and collectible image. According to Bill Reese, the rare books and Americana dealer, because this is an item that appeals to collectors in a variety of fields, it is often sold outside of thoroughly described book and ephemera sales and hence is only occasionally in book auction records. ABPC finds two copies. The AED finds three other references under the title and two others under Paul Revere and the date range 1770:1771. An example of the re-strike was sold by Sotheby's in 2003 for $9,000 against a $2,000 to $3,000 estimate [AE record NO7865-4].
Eric C. Caren of The Caren Archive, Inc. described this sale "as unusual because the Revere came up in an out-of-the-way place. Chris Coover of Christie's and I speculated a few months back about what one would bring in the current market and Chris thought $150,000 was about right. I bought my Revere-Massacre in 1986 for $8,000. This image is a cross-collectible icon for aficionados of printed Americana, historical newspapers, broadsides and historical American engravings." Eric was one of the telephone bidders.
Both Evans [B3156] and Shipton & Mooney  record it. The Church catalogue, now almost 100 years old, describes it as item 1078. Sabin of course describes it . In 1941 Lathrop Harper offered an English impression of this broadside printed the same year that had belonged to "Samuel G. Drake." His price was $125. Goodspeed offered a second English printing in 1967 for $500 and in 1971 a copy of the first American impression, signed at the bottom Col[ore]d by C[hristai]n Remich, for $15,000. Mr. Reese believes that six other copies of the 1770 American printing have changed hands over the past twenty years.
In the run-up to the sale four persons came forward to suggest this was possibly a first impression. Then, with only a few days to spare the mystery was resolved when the countermark on the paper was confirmed to be consistent with the first impression. By auction time the bidders knew what it was and the lot, still estimated at $2,000 to $4,000, sold for $170,000. All in, with buyer's premium, the full price was $195,500. Ultimately the sale took only about $2,000 a second or 90 seconds in total to identify a new owner who, it turned out, was in the room along with the under-bidder who wanted this broadside only one bid less.
By all reports, this example is a gem. In many cases, when an item far exceeds expectations, it brings out other copies. We'll see what happens in the year ahead.