Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2014 Issue

America's National Treasure – a Reprint of the Declaration of Independence and a New Mission

C3cb2d42-1c77-42d7-8219-648355dd09c5

America's National Treasure.

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal...” If that wasn't sufficiently outlandish, America's founders added, “...that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

 

This is not the law of the land in America. The quote is from the Declaration of Independence, which has no official legal standing. The protections enunciated therein are made law by the Constitution. Other than being the beginning of America's long goodbye with its colonial rulers, the Declaration is merely a statement of principles and beliefs. They are the destination, rather than the route.

 

Of course, one could question the sincerity. “All men are created equal?” All are endowed with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” The author of that phrase, Thomas Jefferson, was a slave owner. Was this just some fluff meant to make the British look bad?

 

No. Sometimes, the principles we establish reach higher than ourselves. Jefferson was hardly a God-like man, and his times left him blind to things that are obvious to us now. Still, his soaring words, written in the early summer of 1776, would help to lift his nation above the human weaknesses and blind spots of his own life in the years ahead. Jefferson's words would be used by abolitionists to strike down America's greatest wrong, even if he did not foresee this would happen. The Declaration was written by men, but it was greater than the men who wrote it. It is America's guidepost, a symbol of all that is great in America. That Creator surely knows our shortcomings, our faults, our blind spots, but this magnificent document continues to light our way, to teach us that we can be better than what we are if we will just remember the principles on which our nation was founded. Indeed, much of the strife that infects us today, and through much of the two plus centuries since 1776, could be resolved if only we would refocus on those soaring principles, rather than the petty disagreements and rivalries of the day.

 

Recently, David M. Rubenstein commissioned a new set of copies of the Stone Facsimile of the Declaration to be printed. Copies, in a replica historic frame, are being sent to all U.S. embassies around the world. Mr. Rubenstein is a noted investor and philanthropist with a deep interest in preserving the great icons of America. He was the buyer last fall of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in America (the future United States), sold for over $14 million. He was determined to keep it in America. However, with this investment, he hopes to bring the nation's ideals to the rest of the world by giving a displayable copy of this founding document to each overseas embassy.

 

The Declaration was something of a forgotten item in the days after the Revolution, independence now won. America would have a new set of issues with which to deal. The colonies would have to find a way to unite, first loosely under the Articles of Confederation, and then more seriously with the adoption of the Constitution. Then there would be war debts to pay, expansion into what was then the West (now Midwest), and later the enormous new dominions of the Louisiana Territory, all to be explored and conquered. On the international front, tension with the former colonial masters and even with their revolutionary allies, the French, would erupt. America would be focused on trying to find its way through the minefield of European rivalries. Eventually, it could not avoid them all, and the young nation would find itself at war again with the old country, England.

 

Once the War of 1812 was concluded, America finally had a breather. The Era of Good Feelings began, one of those few times when America was truly at peace with itself. The nation finally had a chance to look at its own heritage, and with it came a renewed interest in its foundation. The result was that in 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned engraver William J. Stone to produce 200 facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence. An earlier attempt had been made, but it was not designed to be an exact replica. Stone's version was to look exactly like the original.

 

Stone's facsimile is a near perfect duplicate, although there are some small differences in the lettering. This is most fortunate as the original has badly faded. Much of it is barely legible, particularly some of the signatures. Exactly how Stone achieved such a good facsimile in the days before copiers is unclear. He may have used some sort of a dampening process to lift some ink from the document to make his engraving. This could explain why it has so badly faded, but this is just a theory. The fading may simply reflect a lack of proper care for many years before its significance was fully appreciated, or be damage from the earlier taking of a facsimile.

 

In 1824, John Quincy Adams began distributing copies of the Stone Facsimile. Two copies each went to the three then surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence, Presidents Jefferson and John Adams, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Other copies went to President James Monroe and Vice-President Daniel Tompkins, former President James Madison, and the Marquis de Lafayette, who was about to return for a visit to the United States after an absence of almost 40 years. Twenty copies were split between the two houses of Congress, two went to the Supreme Court, 12 more copies to various departments of government, and others to state governors, legislatures, and universities. Adams kept a couple of copies himself, which he later gave out to associates. Few of these can be traced today. Around a quarter of them are known to survive, roughly divided half and half between institutions and private collections. Lafayette and Carroll's copies can be traced to their current location, but the original provenance of most surviving copies is not known.

 

All copies of the Declaration of Independence made today are based on Stone's original facsimile. Larger runs were reprinted in the 1830's and 1840's. This set commissioned by Mr. Rubenstein is the latest in time, though the document, and more importantly its message, is timeless.

 

The rare document firm of Seth Kaller and the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies has created a pamphlet describing the Declaration of Independence and the Stone Facsimile's history, along with the mission to distribute copies to American embassies. Its title is America's National Treasure. The Declaration of Independence & William J. Stone's Official Facsimile. We are grateful to Mr. Kaller for providing us with a copy. You can view a copy of this fascinating history on Mr. Kaller's website – www.sethkaller.com

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions