The Charleston Mercury Broadside: Points of Authenticity and Variations

Alan H Jaffee, MD.

Perhaps the most iconic Civil War broadside is the Charleston Mercury’s December 20th 1860, “The Union is Dissolved” issue. South Carolina was a leader in states’ rights. In the 1832 Nullification Crisis over tariffs, South Carolina started to raise military forces when President Jackson threatened the state with war if it defied federal authority. Fortunately, Congress lowered the tariff and aborted the crisis. However with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, South Carolina feared the federal government interfering with the “peculiar institution” of slavery. It unanimously voted, in convention, for an ordinance to secede from the Union. This dramatic broadside announced that decision to the world. Although greeted in celebration it would soon be the death invitation for 650,000 soldiers. I will illustrate a number of flaws in the type that are consistent amongst all copies and should be looked for in any authentic piece and also the discovery of two distinct editions of this broadside.

The overall size of the broadside is 12 by 24 inches. For comparison purposes I have measured several letters in two of the broadsides. The “T” in “CHARLESTON” is 25mm high. The “T” in “EXTRA” is 16mm high. The “I” in “An ORDINANCE” measures 6mm in height. The “I” in “UNION” is 19 by 50mm and the “I” in “DISSOLVED” is 48mm high.

It has been previously stated that there are three errors in this broadside that should be present. These are the printing of “1.15”, instead of the proper “1:15” time. The “is” in the “Union Is Dissolved” has a halo around it and there is a defect in the uppermost part of the “E” in dissolved. Careful examination of existing broadsides also reveals the following flaws in the type. The “d” in “Passed unanimously at 1.15” has a flaw in the bottom of the loop in “d”. In the “u” of “us” in “That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention” is broken at the bottom. The “d” of “United” in “United States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts” is incomplete at the top of the “d”. In the part that says “ratifying amendments of the said Constitution” one will see the “g” of “ratifying” is incomplete at the bottom. Look at the “d” in “under” where it says “under the name of ‘The United States of America’ is hereby dissolved.” to see a slash in the upper part of the loop and look at the most left of the above quotation marks around “The United States Of America” to see a thicker, darker imprint. These flaws are not due to differences in inking but are present in all copies of this broadside I have examined and thus I believe to be present in all authentic editions.

And just to add more interest to this broadside, there are two distinct variations. The rarer of the two has no “,” after “P.M.” At least two examples of this edition are known. One recently sold at Heritage Auctions in June 2009, and the other is in the Library of Congress. The more prevalent editions have a comma after “P.M.” in “1.15 o’clock, P.M.” Examples of this type can be found in National Museum of American History, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the Chicago History Museum, and the New York Public Library. (Additional numbers were sold by Gary Hendershott in 1991; Riba Auctions, 1992; and Christie’s auction of Oct. 9, 2002.) My personal belief is that the broadside was first printed without the comma and then corrected with the comma which is grammatically correct. However, they both were printed at about the same time as they both have all the flaws mentioned above.

Although it has been said that there are many reproductions of this broadside, I have not seen a suspicious example offered for sale in twenty-five years and would be interested to see such examples for comparison. This article is short but it presents new observations on a very historic part of our history.

[Please feel free to e-mail mewithyourcomments.jaffee@frontiernet.net. My thanks to Caroline Jaffee, my wife, who wishes it known she was the one who noticed the two editions of this broadside. I want to thank Ken Ritchey who offered his suggestions and comments on this article.]

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