Benjamin Franklin's famous "Join, or Die" political cartoon offered at auction

Join-Or-Die

An original copy of the May 9, 1754 edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette, featuring noted zine publisher Benjamin Franklin's famous "Join, or Die" political cartoon, is up for auction. Estimate: $100,000 - $200,000

One of only a handful of known existing original copies of Benjamin Franklin’s celebrated “Join, or Die” editorial cartoon, from the May 9, 1754 edition of The Pennsylvania Gazette – the single most famous and important American editorial cartoon in existence, and one of the most famous ever printed – will be offered for the first time at auction and is expected to bring well in excess of $100,000+ when it crosses the block  as part of Heritage Auctions’ Sept. 13 Signature Historical Manuscripts Auction.

“There’s no way to overstate just what this cartoon means to American history, Pop Culture history and comics history,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President of Heritage Auctions. “It’s important on so many levels, to collectors of all kinds, across many genres, that there’s no telling where the bidding for this could go.”

Benjamin Franklin's woodcut illustration of a snake severed into eight sections, each one representing one of the colonies, is the stuff of legend, burned into the collective American consciousness from the time most citizens were in grade school. The appearance of this copy at auction – the only other known copy is in the Library of Congress –constitutes a major event in the annals of American auction history.

“Franklin used the illustration, along with his accompanying editorial, to vividly explain the importance of colonial unity in 1754 shortly before the French and Indian War,” said Jaster. “Its prescient call for American unity may not have worked the way Franklin planned it in 1754, but it plainly sowed the seeds of the need for unity in the face of the looming American Revolution, some 22 years in the future.”

First publication of the "Join, or Die" editorial cartoon

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  1. Kind of an odd metaphor, really. It’s not like you can make a functional snake by stitching together a bunch of snake parts.

    1. Odd metaphor or not, it is an incredibly powerful cartoon.  Franklin was as good a propagandist as he was an inventor.

      The repair is incredible.  It’s amazing what a skilled restorer can do.  I can’t imagine the pressure on the person who did it.

  2. Boy, we could use someone like Franklin or Jefferson today. 

    But they’d just be called “unpatriotic” and “socialist” on Fox News and then they’d be smeared with Citizens United super-PAC money and their political careers would be finished and we’d still be British subjects.  King George of course would be called a “job creator”.  So maybe it’s better that they’ll never know how badly their magnificent experiment turned out after being so badly abused for thirty years by a bunch of frauds who claim to have such great respect for the Constitution they crafted

    1. Probably not –

      Franklin was advocating the British colonies should unite
      against the French, and (I think) ban French fries from their colonial assemblies’
      menus.  Something like that.

  3. How very Christian that he chose to represent America as a (zombie) snake. 

    Ah, it was near Easter when this was published, it all makes perfect sense now.

  4. I just wish it were *slightly* more funny, since it’s one of the most historic political cartoons… maybe it was back then. Also, sucks that the original version is going to be super tiny, but it is the original…

  5. As an American, I don’t know my history. When this snake is rebuilt, is it the same one I’m not supposed to tread on?

  6. Somebody needs to go back in time and introduce Franklin to the concept of Voltron or the Power Rangers.

  7. So, apparently Franklin didn’t care if Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, or New Hampshire joined or died.

    1. So, apparently Franklin didn’t care if Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, or New Hampshire joined or died.

      Isn’t the head labelled N.E. for New England?

      1. Aw, good call. I saw that as NY in trying to figure out who was missing and didn’t notice there were two NYs in my reading. Georgia is an excusable omission.

        That being said, HA! Franklin agrees that there are too many of those little states up there!

        1. That being said, HA! Franklin agrees that there are too many of those little states up there!

          I’d say that Franklin feels that other states would be joining New England, which he has assigned to the head.

      2. Yes, representing four colonies.  The Georgia and New Hampshire colonies were omitted from the cartoon.

  8. Georgia was only founded in the 1730s and didn’t become a royal colony until 1752 (oh, how I love the internets!), so it may not have really been something Franklin was really thinking about..

  9. Back in those days they thought you could cut a snake apart and it would heal if put back together again, but die if not.  So if they cut up a snake they would make sure to keep the pieces separate.  Or maybe they didn’t really believe it, but it was a sort of superstition, like how people these days think they “jinx” the weather by dressing for a sunny day and then it rains – but no one actually believes that.

    Anyway, not such a strange analogy in context.  

  10. I’m 44, college educated, grew up in Kansas, and I’ve never seen this before. Not sure what that means.

  11. All, you know, actual context aside, I’ve always thought that “Join or Die” and “Life, LIberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” made  odd bedfellows.

    1. Not at all.

      The first is saying “If you don’t join us an fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, you will lose them and die.”

      It’s not pointing a gun at them and saying “if you don’t join, I’ll kill you.”

  12. This is hardcore Tea-Party porn.
    I can’t (and don’t wish to) imagine the kinds of constitutionally-protected genuflection and idolatry that this item will be subjected to the minute that patriotic buyer gets it behind closed doors.

    1. Why’s that? Because it and the Gadsden flag has snakes on it? They have completely different meanings.

      1. I don’t think that makes a difference to the kind of people who would swap these things interchangeably. This has Founding Fathers and Snakes all over it. What more do you want?

        What, you think that the same kind of people who thought that “Born in the USA” would be a great campaign song for Ronald Reagan are the kind of people who think for more than two seconds about the actual meaning of things?

  13. I’m ticked off that the T-party yahoos have sullied my fine Gadsden flag.  Such a fine notion:  Don’t Tread On Me!  Kinda like the Nazis ruining the swastika.

  14. We must all hang together, or surely we can trick them into getting hanged so we can get their stuff.

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