Friday, December 07, 2007

Maine Town Wants its Declaration Back

The state of Maine is suing a Virginia man in an attempt to reclaim an early copy of the Declaration of Independence. "Maine Archivist David Cheever says a Jan. 15 trial date has been set in Fairfax County, Va., to settle the dispute with Richard L. Adams Jr., who lives in the Fairfax area," WCSH reported earlier this week.

This particular copy of the Declaration was sent to what is now Wiscasset, Maine (in 1776 it was known as Pownalborough, Massachusetts). The Declaration was lost for many years before it was found in the estate of a Wiscasset woman and sold at auction in 1995. Soon after that, the state Attorney General's office and the Maine Archives began trying to arrange for the Declaration's return to Maine, as the Lincoln County News noted back in early 2006.

"The leverage for its return to the town is a state statute, which prohibits the sale of any permanent public document. Anything before 1900 would be considered a public document, according to State Archivist James Henderson." If the document is returned, the town would likely retain ownership.

"Wiscasset's copy has notations on the back of it that attest to its origin as the original copy that Wiscasset had and that left the town in 1995 after being sold at auction from the estate of Anna Plumstead for $77,000. Investigators traced its location then to New York City where it
was listed for $475,000, but a London book dealer bought it for $390,000. From there it went to its" current owner, Richard Adams Jr.

It's unclear from the news articles but this broadside is likely of the 'edition' printed at Salem, Massachusetts by E. Russell for distribution to the towns.

A similar dispute over another Maine copy, that belonging to North Yarmouth, was (eventually) resolved satisfactorily in 2001.

[h/t Everett Wilkie, who's been following this story over on Ex-Libris]