Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2017 Issue

One of the Earliest Printings of the Declaration of Independence to Be Sold in An Unexpected Location

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The Holt Declaration of Independence (from Blanchard Auctions website).

A major piece of printed Americana will go up for sale on November 11. It is a very rare, very early, and very valuable printing of the Declaration of Independence. It was printed in New York on July 9, 1776. However, the auction will not be taking place in New York, at least not the city. It will take place in Potsdam, New York. Where?

 

For the uninitiated, Potsdam is in the far upper reaches of upstate New York. Winter there begins in late July and ends in early July. It's where if you speak a second language, it's French, not Spanish. If you're going to the "big city," it's Montreal, not New York. Montreal is 100 miles away, New York City 350. Canada is a mere 50 miles north.

 

Potsdam is not a large metropolis. It has a population of 9,400. However, it is no hick town either. It is home to two colleges, Clarkson University and the State University of New York at Potsdam. That must be one of the nation's highest universities per capita ratios. It is also home of Blanchard's Auction Service. Blanchard's may not have the caché of a Sotheby's or Christie's, but every better known auction house on earth would love to have this item. As the listing explains, the Blanchards have known the unnamed seller for 25 years, who is "committed to our region." This is how the Declaration came to be offered in far-off Potsdam.

 

The Declaration of Independence was first printed for the Continental Congress by John Dunlap on the evening of July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. Two hundred copies were printed. Twenty-five of these are known to survive. The last such copy sold at auction went for over $8 million at Sotheby's in 2000. It was in pristine condition. There were a few newspaper and other printings in the days ahead. Most were printed locally in various towns around the colonies, rather than being printed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. This is why most of even the early copies come a week or two later.

 

Blanchard's copy is one of the earliest. It is known as the Holt edition as it was printed by John Holt of New York. It was printed just five days later, on July 9, 1776. Like all early copies, it lists John Hancock, but not all of the other signers. They didn't get around to actually signing the document until early August.

 

Holt reportedly printed 500 copies. For whatever reason, they didn't survive. The Holt broadside printing of the Declaration of Independence was previously known in only four copies. This makes five. The other survivors reside at the New York Public Library, Westchester County Archives, Cincinnati Museum, and Huntington Library. If you want one, you better prepare your bid as you are unlikely to see another again.

 

What is the history behind this previously unknown copy of the great document that has been in hiding the past 241 years? Blanchard's tells the story. An inscription on the back shows it was sent with some other items to Col. David Mulford of South Hampton on Long Island on July 24, 1776, by Uriah Rogers. That pretty much tells the story. Mulford, and then many generations of descendants in the Mulford-Gardner-Buell family, kept it. This copy of the Declaration comes with eight later documents attesting to the family's continued ownership of Col. Mulford's copy. It has stayed there until the recent decision by an unnamed descendant to sell it.

 

How many dollars will change hands in Potsdam on November 11? This one is hard to tell. When something is of great importance and great rarity, bids can rise to unexpected levels. While this is not as valuable (though rarer) than John Dunlap's July 4 printing, it's right up there with whatever comes next. Blanchard's has placed an estimate of $500,000-$1,000,000 on the Holt copy. While I would think the price will be closer to the lower estimate, I could be totally wrong. If there are a couple of determined bidders in the room, there is no telling what the price may be. It may not quite be one of a kind, but in terms of obtainability, it sure is.

 

Any Declaration of Independence printed in the first couple of weeks after July 4 is likely to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars. This being a separate broadside, rather than a newspaper printing, it is more desirable. I will not attempt to place it on a scale based on condition. You can see that from the picture. It isn't perfect, but I don't know how this compares to most other copies. It was reasonably well cared for over the centuries, but by ordinary people, not preservationists.

 

On the high end of recent sales, a newspaper printing sold for $722,500 at Sotheby's in 2012. This was part of a full year's run, and while newspaper printings are generally not as valuable, this was from the Pennsylvania Evening Post in Philadelphia, and its date was even earlier – July 6. It was second only to the Dunlap first printing. The first broadside printing in Boston also sold for $722,500 at Christie's in 2009, and that one came later, around July 17. A copy of a Salem, Massachusetts, broadside printed on July 15 or 16 sold at Sotheby's in 2010 for $572,500. Another Salem issue was sold last year at Heritage Auctions for $514,000.

 

The first printing in book form, a late addition to The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution, printed around July 8, sold for $370,000 at Sotheby's in 2015. The first Boston newspaper printing in the New-England Chronicle of July 18 sold for $257,000 at Bonham's in 2014. Christie's sold a copy of the Pennsylvania Ledger of July 13 containing the Declaration for $125,000 in 2014. Doyle's sold a July 10 Pennsylvania Journal with the Declaration for $150,000 in 2016.

 

Then there is one actual comparable to be found in the auction records, but it is not of much help in evaluating its current value. One copy of the Holt printing did come up for auction. It sold for a mere $810 at the American Art Association. Unfortunately, the year was 1920. That is not much of a guide for value a century later. At the time, American Art described it as an "excessive rarity... of which no other copy is known." Perhaps this means in another 25 years or so, a sixth copy will emerge.

 

Blanchard's sale contains only two items, the second being a large collection of family correspondence and some very old and unknown broadsides, estimated at $25,000-$50,000. You can check it out on their website at blanchardsauctionservice.com/index.html.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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