"JOIN, or DIE" Cartoon from Franklin's 1754 ''Pennsylvania Gazette'' Sells for $50,000
Los Angeles -The original May 9, 1754 “Pennsylvania Gazette” newspaper featuring Benjamin Franklin’s famous “JOIN, or DIE” cartoon sold last night for $50,000 at Nate D. Sanders Auctions.
''JOIN, or DIE'' featuring a severed rattlesnake is widely considered the most influential political cartoon in American history. This edition of the “Pennsylvania Gazette” being auctioned is the first printing of the “JOIN, or DIE” cartoon. It is the only known copy besides the one held in the Library of Congress’ permanent collection.
Franklin was exasperated by the colonists' failure to join forces with the French against westward expansion in the Seven Years’ War. Franklin created the rattlesnake cartoon, sliced into eight pieces symbolizing the American colonies, to dramatically enforce the effective message: join together as one cohesive body, or die. Franklin also published an editorial in the “Pennsylvania Gazette,” urging the colonists to work together, reading in part, ''...The Confidence of the French in this Undertaking seems well-grounded on the present disunited State of the British Colonies ... while our Enemies have the very great Advantage of being under one Direction, with one Council, and one Purse ...''
The symbol of the dis-united rattlesnake would echo over twenty years later to inspire the colonists to unite against the British. In 1774, Paul Revere added the ''JOIN, or DIE'' cartoon to the nameplate of his paper, the ''Massachusetts Spy.'' In 1775, the Continental Marines used a coiled rattlesnake “Don’t Tread on Me'' flag as their motto. The phrase likely influenced John Stark, the New Hampshire Revolutionary War General whose toast was, ''Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.'' Stark’s phrase inspired New Hampshire's motto and suggests that personal liberty is one of the highest human values and a founding principle of the United States.
Franklin's choice of a rattlesnake is perplexing for several reasons: as the timber rattlesnake was found throughout the colonies but not in England. Franklin argued in a 1751 editorial that the colonists should ship rattlesnakes to England in exchange for the criminals that England was sending to America. Franklin seemed to embrace the rattlesnake as a metaphor and would argue its virtues during the American Revolution.
Bidding on the newspaper began at $40,000.
Additional information on the newspaper can be found at