By: Joe Strupp

South Carolina Paper Valued At $140,000

by Joe Strupp

A 224-year-old copy of a South Carolina newspaper reporting on the
Declaration of Independence signing is at the heart of a three-way
legal battle over ownership that could set a precedent for future
rights to historic artifacts, according to legal experts.

The tug-of-war pits the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier against
the Charleston Library Society, both of whom say the newspaper
belongs to them. Also involved are Christie’s auction house and
Virginia newspaper dealer Mark Mitchell.

‘This case will affect, on a large scale, museums, auction houses
and future ownership [of historic items],’ said Beryl Cohen, an
attorney for Mitchell, who sold the newspaper through Christie’s
to a foundation run by The Post and Courier. ‘It has great
ramifications for any collectors in the country.’

The historic newspaper – valued at about $140,000 – has already
sparked two lawsuits by those claiming rightful ownership. As the
warring parties duke it out in the legal arena, the paper itself –
an Aug. 2-14, 1776 edition of the now-defunct South Carolina and
American General Gazette – remains locked in a New York vault. The
next key ruling on the matter could come Thursday in New York when
U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan determines if the
lawsuits should be consolidated into one.

The battle began shortly after Christie’s auctioned off the newspaper
in May to The Post and Courier Foundation, a non-profit organization
for charitable giving, for $140,000. The Foundation had hoped to put
the paper on display at the Post and Courier offices. ‘It is an
historic Charleston newspaper and we feel it belongs here,’ said
Post and Courier publisher Ivan Anderson. ‘If we had ownership, we
would make sure it was presented and put on display here.’

The paper is considered valuable not only for its age and news content,
but also because it contains the entire text of the Declaration, and
is believed to have been the only South Carolina paper to report on
the signing. ‘That makes it historically important,’ said Eric Newton,
a historian at the Newseum in Arlington, Va. ‘It gives a sense, also,
of how news flowed at the time and how the Declaration was received
in the separate colonies.’

Shortly after the sale, the Charleston Library Society filed suit in
the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas against Christie’s, the
foundation, and Mitchell, claiming the newspaper belonged to them.

Mitchell later filed his own suit in U.S. District Court in New York
against the Society, Christie’s, and a Post and Courier bidding
agent. His suit seeks the right of ownership and $131,000 in damages
for his lost revenue from the sale that never commenced. ‘We know we
can establish that he is the legal owner of the document,’ said
Cohen. ‘They have no authority to retain the property.’

Christie’s also filed a request in U.S. District Court asking that
the South Carolina suit be folded into the federal case and the
ownership decided in U.S. District Court in New York. That decision
is expected on Thursday from Judge Kaplan.


Joe Strupp ( is an associate editor
for E&P.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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