Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Early Facsimile Copy of Declaration Found

Document dealer Tom Lingenfelter of Doylestown, PA believes he has found an early facsimile copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of just two copies known to have been produced in 1846 by a short-lived reproduction process. In an 18 August press release, Lingenfelter really trumpets the document, which is known as an anastatic facsimile. A followup piece in the Intelligencer (PA) adds more about the creation: "In the process, the original was treated with an acid-based solution and a paper was pressed to it, causing some of the ink to transfer to the second sheet, which was used to create a plate and more facsimiles." Needless to say, this would not have been good for the original.

The other known anastatic copy of the Declaration is in the collections of the Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. "
The chief curator there, Karie Diethorn, said Lingenfelter's find corrected the Park's mistaken belief that the facsimiles were created in 1876 for the centennial - the correct year is 1846, he said - and revealed who made them." Lingenfelter claims this was a printer named Smith, who learned of the anastatic process in England and was given access to the original engrossed Declaration (that's the one on display at the National Archives). But Diethorn and others at Independence National Historic Park aren't convinced that the anastatic facsimile was made from the original Declaration; they think copies may have been made from the 1823 Stone broadside instead. Intuitively, this makes more sense, but I'd like to see the evidence.

Lingenfelter claims that the damage to the original engrossed Declaration came from the anastatic process, not from the process used by Stone or by subsequent light damage and other factors.

A perennial independent political candidate (he's currently running for Congress), Lingenfelter's interest in the anastatic facsimile is primarily monetary. He wants to sell it, and he thinks it's worth a heap of money. He calls the item "more important" than the Dunlap broadside copy (that's the one printed in Philadelphia on the night of 4 July for distribution throughout the states), but he badly overestimates the number of copies known (he says "reported 200+"; there are 25). [Update: Lingenfelter reports that he was using the "reported 200+" figure to refer to the number of copies produced - which is fair, if not entirely germane since most of them have disappeared]. Sotheby's and Christie's wouldn't comment on the item, but Lingenfelter's consultant (Bob Lucas from
Alderfer Auction Company) says "It should for all intents and purposes be worth more than the Dunlap copy" (a copy of which sold for $8.1 million in 2000). I don't think that's the case, and agree with Diethorn, who says "Tom Lingenfelter's opinion is Tom Lingenfelter's opinion and it has yet to be tested in the market." The Dunlap broadside's importance lies with its priority and its purpose.

Perhaps a better gauge for a the 'value' of this copy, its apparent rarity notwithstanding, is the Stone facsimile from 1823, a copy of which sold recently for $100,000. Given the rarity of the anastatic copy I would put a slightly higher estimate on it than that, but not that much higher. In the meantime, serious research would have to be undertaken to determine whether this copy was taken from the 1776 engrossed copy or from the Stone facsimile; if the latter, then all this discussion of value is pretty much a moot point.

An interesting find, at any rate, if perhaps not quite as important as it's portrayed.