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    An Early Printing of the Declaration of Independence

    William J. Stone for Peter Force: The Declaration of Independence. One page, 24" x 28" (sight), originally folded and placed in Volume I of Peter Force's 1837-1853 series of books, American Archives.

    As the young nation grew, interest in reproductions of the Declaration increased. In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned William J. Stone of Washington to engrave an exact copy of the original Declaration of Independence onto a copperplate, a process which took three years to complete. Stone used a new Wet-Ink transfer process to create a copperplate from which facsimile copies could then be made. By wetting the original document, some of the original ink was transferred to the copperplate, which was then used for printing. There were 201 official parchment copies struck from the Stone plate. They are identified as "Engraved by W. J. Stone for the Department of State, by order" in the upper left corner, followed by "of J. Q. Adams, Sec. of State July 4th 1824" in the upper right corner. Stone kept one copy for himself (this copy now resides in the Smithsonian) and delivered 200 copies to the Department of State.

    Unfortunately, the "Wet-Ink" transfer process used by Stone hastened the fading of the ink on the original Declaration, which is now nearly impossible to read. The copies made from Stone's copperplate established the clear visual image today of the way the Declaration of Independence looked 230 years ago after it was signed by the fifty-six American patriots who, as they affixed their signatures, agreed to "mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

    In 1833, historian and printer Peter Force, under contract with the Department of State authorized by an act of Congress, planned to compile a vast work in at least twenty volumes, to be known as the American Archives, a Documentary History of the English Colonies in North America. It included legislative records, documents, and historic private correspondence. Six volumes were published from 1837 through 1846 and three more between 1846 and 1853. The nine volumes covered the years 1774 through 1776. Inserted in Volume I was a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The "Wet Ink" copperplate created by William J. Stone had been removed from storage and, from it, Force printed copies on rice paper. In the lower left of each copy, Force printed: "W. J. STONE SC. WASHN." These documents were then folded and inserted into Volume 1 of the American Archives collection. Congress authorized up to 1500 copies of the series to be printed, but subscriptions fell far short of that number. The actual number of copies printed is unknown, with estimates ranging from about 500 to upwards of 1,000. Only a few hundred of Force's printings of the Declaration of Independence are known to exist today. On April 29, 1846, the U.S. Senate "Resolved, That the Committee on the Library be instructed to inquire into the expediency of distributing copies of the American Archives, now belonging to the government, among the historical societies, incorporated public libraries, colleges, and universities in the United States." There were still sets of the American Archives remaining so, on February 21, 1849, the House issued "a Joint resolution authorizing the distribution of the 'American Archives,' under the direction of the Joint Committee on the Library, to literary institutions in the several States and Territories." In 1853, possibly because of the low demand for the nine volumes of American Archives already in print, Secretary of State William L. Marcy refused to approve Force's plans to continue his series.

    Areas of minor separation in places along the vertical folds do not detract. Scattered spots of light foxing are seen, particularly along the upper edge. Very light ink ghosting from being folded. Matted and framed to an overall size of 33" x 42". From the Collection of a Minnesota Gentleman.


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    Auction Dates
    October, 2014
    8th-9th Wednesday-Thursday
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