We don’t know exactly how many copies of the Declaration of Independence John Dunlap printed in Philadelphia on the night of 4 July 1776, but we now know that at least twenty-six have survived the ravages of time. The twenty-sixth copy was discovered in October 2008 by rare book dealer Joseph Felcone of Princeton, NJ.
Felcone was at the National Archives of the UK, working on his current project, a "full-blown inventory and copy-specific bibliography of 18th-century New Jersey printing." From the Colonial Office record group, he had requested several volumes of bound pamphlets, letters, broadsides and other documents. Because he was on a tight schedule, he writes, he had to move quickly: "I turned a page, saw the impression of type on the blank verso of a folded-in sheet, unfolded just enough of the top corner to see the words D of I [Declaration of Independence], knew it wasn't NJ, and kept right on going. A few pages later something made me turn back to the Declaration just to see what printing it was. I opened it, saw it was a Dunlap, folded it back, and kept on going, and promptly forgot about it."
When he got back to the States, Felcone emailed Dr. Mandy Banton, then Principal Records Specialist for Diplomatic and Colonial Records (since retired), telling her of the Dunlap broadside and suggesting that they might wish to remove it from the bound volume and find more suitable and secure housing for it. Felcone says that she wrote back and thanked him for the notice, and that the copy had indeed been taken out of the bound volume and housed separately. His discovery, perhaps rather ironically, makes the UK National Archives the single repository with the most Dunlap Declarations (three copies of the twenty-six known).
Felcone’s own understated words must suffice as a fitting conclusion: "The whole thing was really very English. No cause for excitement. You find a new D of I, you have a cup of tea, and you move on."
Officials at the UK National Archives say a press release about the discovery will be made public later this week.