Paul Revere Boston Massacre Print

Value (2013) | $150,000 Auction$200,000 Auction

HOST: Here in Boston, structures, monuments and markers permeate the city as reminders to its important role in the Revolutionary War. Five victims of the Boston Massacre rest here at the Granary Burying Ground, only steps away from where they were shot. Near them lies Paul Revere, whose famous depiction of the incident fanned the flames of anti-British sentiment. Appraiser Wes Cowan joined me at the Old State House to discuss some lesser-known details of this revolutionary print. Wes, here we are at the Old State House in Boston, and it was right here where the Boston Massacre happened nearly 250 years ago.

That's right, Mark. This was a pivotal moment in the history of the American Revolution. It's March 5, 1770, dusk is falling. There was a British soldier named Hugh White standing on the steps to the Custom House, guarding the entryway. A Bostonian walks by, hurls an insult at this British soldier, words are exchanged, Hugh White ultimately bludgeons one of the citizens with his rifle, a mob forms, snowballs are thrown, ice is being thrown, and eventually all hell breaks loose. HOST: And shots were fired.

That's right. Five Americans were killed, six were wounded. That's what we've come to know as the Boston Massacre. HOST: And that event inspires this Paul Revere print, entitled "The Bloody Massacre."

Well, I wouldn't exactly call it Paul Revere's print. HOST: Why wouldn't you call it Paul Revere's print?

Well, Revere copied this print from a fellow artist and engraver here in Boston named Henry Pelham. He made the drawing, showed it to Revere, and Revere then copied it before Pelham had time to bring it to press. HOST: So you're saying Revere plagiarized this?

Well, that's pretty strong, but I guarantee you that's what Pelham would have said. Pelham was furious, and he actually wrote Revere a letter. We don't know that Revere ever got the letter, but the letter basically said, "This is the most dishonorable thing "that I can imagine somebody doing. "You stole my advantage. I had already paid for all the paper and engraving." And he basically called him a highway robber. HOST: So do you think Revere did this to get the edge on Pelham?

One could argue that, but it's also important to remember that Revere was a patriot, and he was staunchly against British rule. It's a piece of propaganda. The print shows British soldiers firing indiscriminately into this crowd, and that's not exactly what happened. But Revere recognized that this would be a galvanizing image. He knew it was going to incite sentiments on the American side, but he also may have wanted to get the jump on Pelham because he knew he could maybe make a buck. HOST: And did Pelham ever release a copy of his print?

He did, two weeks after Revere issued his. He titled his, "The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre." And when you look at the two prints, you'll see that there's subtle differences, but they're very, very similar. HOST: How many did Pelham make?

Well, we don't know that. We do know one thing: that only two have survived. HOST: And Paul Revere's print of the Boston Massacre, how many of those were made?

Well, about 200, and there are at least 25 known copies still existing. HOST: When original copies of Revere's print come to market, what have they gone for?

One recently sold for just about $150,000, but that's not the record. About ten years ago, one sold for more than $200,000. So $150,000 to north of $200,000. The Pelham print is really rare, but it's probably not as desirable as Revere's print. If one were to come up at auction, I would expect it to have an estimate of at least $50,000 to $70,000. And this is a great example of one of those things where rarity does not necessarily equate with value. HOST: Well, Wes, thanks so much for sharing all this information. It's just fascinating.

Oh, it's great to see this print.

Appraisal Details

Cowan's Auctions, Inc.
Cincinnati, OH
Appraised value (2013)
$150,000 Auction$200,000 Auction
Boston, MA (June 09, 2012)
Ink , Paper

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