Heritage Auctions sells rare, previously unaccounted for 1823 printing of Declaration of Independence for double estimate at April 11 sale.
NEW YORK – A very important, a recently discovered 1823 printing of the Declaration of Independence, painstakingly engraved and printed by William Stone to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the founding of the United States, sold for $597,500, double its pre-auction estimate, at auction in New York on April 11, 2012. It was purchased by an anonymous East Coast buyer and was considered the centerpiece of the Heritage Auctions Historical Manuscripts Signature Auction.
“In 1820, English-born engraver William J. Stone of Washington, D.C. was commissioned to produce an exact copy of the original Declaration of Independence onto a copperplate, a process which took him three years to complete,” said Sandra Palomino, Director of Historic Manuscripts at Heritage. “It was almost 45 years after the Revolution, only six years after the War of 1812 and smack dab in the middle of President James Monroe’s ‘Era of Good Feelings,’ the most significant period of growth in the young nation’s history up to that point. Interest in the Declaration surged.”
In all, 200 official parchment copies were struck from the Stone plate in 1823, with one extra struck for Stone himself. Each copy is identified as ENGRAVED by W. I. STONE for the Dept of State, by order in the upper left corner, followed by of J. Q. ADAMS, Sect. of State July 4th 1823 in the upper right
“We know from a 1991 census of the manuscripts that there 31 total known to survive, with only 12 copies in private hands,” said Palomino. “This auction represented a singular chance for someone to acquire a prime piece of American history and collectors jumped at the chance.”
Choice pieces of Early American history were greatly in demand at the auction, as a Thomas Jefferson presentation copy of A Manual of Parliamentary Practice, with a Jefferson autographed letter transmitting the book to Virginia Revolutionary War soldier, politician and judge Francis T. Brooke realized $113,525 against an estimate of $30,000-plus; and George Washington’s signed copy from his own library of A View of the History of Great-Britain during the Administration of Lord North, to the Second Session of the Fifteenth Parliament, bearing the first president’s bookplate, brought $101,575, also against an estimate of $30,000-plus.
Declaration of Independence, Engraved and Printed by William Stone. One page, 25.5″ x 30.5″ broadside, Washington D. C., 1823. As the fledgling nation neared its forty-fifth year, and only six years removed from the end of the War of 1812, patriotism surged and with it, a growing interest in the Declaration of Independence. In 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned English-born engraver William J. Stone of Washington to produce an exact copy of the original Declaration of Independence onto a copperplate, a process which took him three years to complete. In all, 200 official parchment copies were struck from the Stone plate in 1823 (with an extra struck for Stone). Each copy is identified as “ENGRAVED by W. I. STONE for the Dept of State, by order” in the upper left corner, followed by “of J. Q. ADAMS, Sect. of State July 4th 1824” in the upper right.
Printed on parchment, this superb copy shows evidence of the original platemark near the margins. The edges are lightly toned with no chipping or tears. There is only light soiling at the top right corner and four light spots of staining. Although the usual buckling is present, there are no fold creases and absolutely no paper loss. This is truly an extraordinary document.
Of the original 201 printed, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the last three surviving signers of the Declaration, former President James Madison, the Marquis de Lafayette, President James Monroe, and Vice President Daniel D. Thompkins each received two copies. The President’s House and the Supreme Court chamber were also given two copies. The House and Senate received twenty copies each. The Departments of State, War, Treasury, Justice, Navy, and Postmaster all received twelve copies and the governors and state and territorial legislatures were given a copy. The remaining copies were sent to various Universities and colleges. Stone kept one copy for himself. In 1888, Stone’s widow, Elizabeth J. Stone, donated his copy to the Smithsonian Institute, where it resides today. In his comprehensive survey of Stone Declarations, William R. Coleman, in “Counting the Stones: A Census of the Stone Facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence,” Manuscripts 43 (Spring 1991), p. 103, lists a total of thirty-one extant copies; nineteen of which are located in institutions and twelve in private hands. Several copies once privately held have since been donated to institutions, including one given to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2001-2.
It is unknown how Stone made his copy, but it is believed he used a Wet-Ink transfer process (as claimed by the National Academy of Sciences in 1881) 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. 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 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.” The original copperplate is now housed in the records of the Department of State at the National Archives and Records Administration.
Reference: William R. Coleman. Counting the Stones — A Census of the Stone Facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence, Manuscripts 43, 1991, p 103. Ann Marie Dube, A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions, Appendix E, National Park Service, 1996. Catherine Nicholson. National Archives, The Stone Engraving: Icon of the Declaration. 2003. (accessed February, 22, 2012). Estimate: $250,000 – $350,000.