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Lost And Found: Rare Paul Revere Print Rediscovered

A rare engraving by Paul Revere surfaced recently in a library at Brown University, where it had been nestled in the pages of a book for centuries. (Brown University )

The 237th anniversary of Paul Revere's famous midnight ride during the Revolutionary War falls on Wednesday. But long before Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made him famous, Revere was known as an engraver and a silversmith in Boston.

Brown University announced this week that it had found a rare engraved print by Revere, one of only five in existence. The print was tucked inside an old medical book that had been donated by physician Solomon Drowne, a member of Brown University's class of 1773.

"It was an engraving, not a terribly large one," Richard Noble, Brown University's rare books cataloguer tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, "and I looked down at the corner and there was a signature, "P. Revere Sculp." And I thought, 'You know, it's just crude enough to be his work.'"

Noble did some research online, and found a picture and description of the very same print on the American Antiquarian Society website, proving that this was a Revere original.

The print itself is rare, but what makes it truly unique is what it depicts, Noble says. The print shows Jesus in the Jordan River with John the Baptist, after being fully submerged in the water; the standard image often associated with Jesus' baptism has John the Baptist pouring water over Jesus' head.

The submersion of Christ is more in tune with the Baptist telling of the Baptism of Christ, Noble says.

"The text that's chosen for the caption, 'Buried with Him by baptism,' is very, very Baptist with a capital B text," Noble says.

Revere was a known Unitarian and though Noble is not a religious scholar, he says he believes Revere's print holds a hidden significance. His hope is "that somebody who knows something about that can come along and say, 'That's interesting and I've never seen anything quite like it before from this period, and I think that might be the case.'"

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Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE SHOT HEARD 'ROUND THE WORLD")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The British are coming. The British are coming.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Wednesday marks the 237th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride. Now, long before poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made him famous for that midnight ride, Paul Revere was better known in Boston as a silversmith and an engraver. And this week in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University announced they'd found one of his engravings.

An archivist was cataloguing an old collection of books donated to the university library more than 200 years ago. She opened one of them, and out popped an old piece of paper. So she took it to Brown's rare books cataloguer, Richard Noble.

RICHARD NOBLE: And it was an engraving, not a terribly large one, and I looked down at the corner, and there was a signature, P. Revere Sculp. And I thought, you know, it's just crude enough to be his work.

RAZ: The print was tucked inside an old medical book that had been donated by physician Solomon Drowne, a member of Brown University's class of 1773.

NOBLE: And I looked at it further, and it seemed very genuinely to be an 18th century engraving. The paper was right, the printing method was right, everything was there.

RAZ: So Noble did what researchers around the world do.

NOBLE: I Googled it, yes.

RAZ: And he found a picture and a description of that very same print on the American Antiquarian Society website, proving, in fact, that this was a Paul Revere engraving. The print itself is rare, just one of five, but what makes it truly unique is what it depicts.

NOBLE: It's a depiction of the baptism of Christ.

RAZ: In the print, Revere depicted Jesus in the Jordan River, along with John the Baptist, fully submerged in the water. It's unusual because that scene is normally drawn showing John the Baptist pouring water over Christ's head. And Noble says the submersion of Christ is more in tune with the Baptist telling of the Baptism.

NOBLE: The text that's chosen for the caption, Buried with Him by Baptism, is a very, very Baptist, with a capital B, text.

RAZ: Paul Revere was a Unitarian. And although Richard Noble is not a religious scholar, he believes that Revere's print could hold a hidden significance, and his hope is...

NOBLE: That somebody who knows something about that can come along and say, that's interesting, and I've never seen anything quite like it before from this period. And I think that might be the case.

RAZ: That's Brown University's rare books cataloguer, Richard Noble. He, alongside Brown's library staff, uncovered a new engraved print by Revolutionary War icon Paul Revere. You can see a photo of that rare Revere print at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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