A few weeks ago, book conservation technician Marie Malchodi opened yet another leather-bound book, one of more than 300,000 rare volumes in the hold of the John Hay Library, Brown University. With surgical precision, she turned the pages of a medical text once owned by Solomon Drowne, Class of ¹73 (1773, that is). And there, in the back, she found a piece of paper depicting the baptism of Jesus. It was signed:"P. Revere Sculp"
The engraving, titled "Buried With Him By Baptism," shows John the Baptist raising Jesus from the River Jordan under a blazing sun, while people in vaguely Colonial attire watch from shore. And in the lower right corner appears the name of a Revolutionary icon.
The first reaction of Richard Noble, the rare books cataloguer, was that the engraving was just crude enough to be a Revere. Then he held the engraving up to the light as a test.
It had the faintly ribbed look of paper produced from the slurry pulp made of rags, signaling that it was most likely handmade paper from the 18th century.
It turned out that Ms. Malchodi had uncovered only the fifth known copy of this particular engraving, which is "a bit of a curiosity in Revere¹s work," according to Lauren Hewes, the curator of graphic arts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass. She said that while Revere carefully documented his prosperous and prolific career as an artisan, he made no mention of this piece, and so the exact date of the engraving is unclear.
"It sits outside of what we think of when we think of Paul Revere," she said. "It wasn¹t all patriotic topics ‹ he did a lot more than that."
How the engraving came to be in the possession of Solomon Drowne is still being researched; his descendants have some theories. And its monetary worth is probably only a few thousand dollars, but that is hardly what matters.
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