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For Sale: The First Printing of "The Star-Spangled Banner"

During the War of 1812, actually in the autumn of 1814, the Baltimore Patriot and Evening Advertiser took ten days off from publication. When it returned on September 20th, it contained the lyrics to a new song written by Francis Scott Key, with the suggestion that it be sing to the tune of “To Anacreon in Heaven.” While clippings of that newspaper still exist, a full issue is an extreme rarity, and one is now up for auction.  

Printed under their original title, “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” the four verses allowed the newspaper to report on the events of the titular battle with some literary flourish. “In our first renewal of publication,” the editors wrote, “we rejoice in an opportunity to enliven the sketch of an exploit so illustrious, with strains … which so fully celebrate it.” The paper also predicted that the words were “destined long to outlast the occasion,” but it’s doubtful the editors understood just how long. In June 2020, more than 200 years later, this first newspaper printing of what became “The Star-Spangled Banner” will be auctioned by Christie’s, for an expected minimum of $300,000.

Accompanying the lyrics is a reported account of the song’s conception.

Read about that newspaper edition in context at Atlas Obscura.

(Image credit: Christie's)

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