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The Declaration of Independence - A Brief History by Stanley L. Klos -- Authenticate your Declaration of Independence

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Declaration of Independence
Continued from DeclarationofIndependence.info
 


A Brief History
by Stanley L. Klos

 

The Wet Ink Transfer of the Declaration


Continued from DeclarationofIndependence.info
 

It is important we digress here to explain the history and process that virtually eradicated most of the ink on the one and only engrossed signed Declaration of Independence that has become our national icon.

By 1820 the condition of the only signed Declaration of Independence was rapidly deteriorating. In that year John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, commissioned William J. Stone of Washington to create exact copies of the Declaration using a "new" Wet-Ink Transfer process. Unfortunately this Wet-Ink Transfer greatly contributed to the degradation of the only engrossed and signed Declaration of Independence ever produced.

 

On April 24, 1903 the National Academy of Sciences reported its findings, summarizing the physical history of the Declaration:

"The instrument has suffered very seriously from the very harsh treatment to which it was exposed in the early years of the Republic. Folding and rolling have creased the parchment. The wet press-copying operation to which it was exposed about 1820, for the purpose of producing a facsimile copy, removed a large portion of the ink. Subsequent exposure to the action of light for more than thirty years, while the instru­ment was placed on exhibition, has resulted in the fading of the ink, particularly in the signatures. The present method of caring for the instrument seems to be the best that can be suggested

 

The committee does not consider it wise to apply any chemicals with a view to restoring the original color of the ink, because such application could be but partially successful, as a considerable percentage of the original ink was removed in making the copy about 1820, and also because such application might result in serious discoloration of the parchment; nor does the committee consider it necessary or advisable to apply any solution, such as collodion, paraffin, etc., with a view to strengthening the parchment or making it moisture proof.

The committee is of the opinion that the present method of protecting the instrument should be continued; that it should be kept in the dark, and as dry as possible, and never placed on exhibition." [xxiii]

The Wet-Ink Transfer Process called for the surface of the Declaration to be moistened transfer­ring some of the original ink to the surface of a clean copper plate. Three and one-half years later under the date of June 4, 1823, the National Intelligencer reported that:

 

"the City Gazette informs us that Mr. Wm. J. Stone, a respectable and enterprising (sic) engraver of this City has, after a labor of three years, completed a facsimile of the Original of the Declaration of Independence, now in the archives of the government, that it is executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity; and that the Department of State has become the purchaser of the plate. The facility of multiplying copies of it, now possessed by the Department of State will render furthur (sic) exposure of the original unnecessary." [xxiv]


Declaration of Independence 1824 Wet Ink Transfer
Courtesy of Stanley L. Klos


Vellum Declaration Of Independence Mark
Courtesy of Stanley L. Klos

On May 26, 1824, a resolution by the Senate and House of Representatives provided:

 

"That two hundred copies of the Declaration, now in the Department of State, be dis­tributed in the manner following: two copies to each of the surviving Signers of the Declaration of Independence (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton); two copies to the President of the United States (Monroe); two copies to the Vice-President of the United States (Tompkins); two copies to the late President, Mr. Madison; two copies to the Marquis de Lafayette, twenty copies for the two hous­es of Congress; twelve copies for the different departments of the Government (State, Treasury, Justice, Navy, War and Postmaster); two copies for the President's House; two copies for the Supreme Court room, one copy to each of the Governors of the States; and one to each of the Governors of the Territories of the United States; and one copy to the Council of each Territory; and the remaining copies to the different Universities and Colleges of the United States, as the President of the United States may direct." [xxv]

 

The 201 official parchment copies struck from the Stone plate carry the identification "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. "Unofficial" copies that were struck later do not have the identification at the top of the document or are the printed on vellum. Instead the engraver identified his work by engraving "W. J. Stone SC. Washn." near the lower left corner and burnishing out the earlier identification. Today 33 of the 201 Stone facsimiles printed in 1823 are known to exist. [xxvi] Additionally, three 1823 “proof” paper strikes of the Declaration have recently appeared in public auctions in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

 

Peter Force's American Archives with Stone Wet Ink Transfer on Rice Paper
Courtesy of Stanley L. Klos

 

Rice Declaration Of Independence Mark
Courtesy of Stanley L. Klos

 

After the 1823 printing, the original plate was altered for Peter Force to include rice paper copies in a series of books entitled AMERICAN ARCHIVES: Containing A Documentary History Of The United States Of America Series 4, Six Volumes and Series 5.   The purpose of this book was to compile the History of the United State 1774 through 1783. American Archives were also to include the reproduction of key founding documents of the United States. For that occasion the "Wet Ink" copper plate was removed from storage and altered to reflect the Rice Paper printing.  In 1833 Peter Force paid William stone for 4,000 printings of the Declaration of Independence from the copper plate.  The declaration was then folded and inserted into Volume 1 of The American Archives collection.  Additionally, Peter Force kept a small number of unfolded copies as promotional documents for his book.  


William Stone Copper Plate and 1976 Printing Photo
Courtesy of the National Archives
Click to Enlarge

The Archival costs of the American Archives publication limited the number of clients. It is not known precisely how many "rice wet ink transfers" survive but less then six unfolded copies are know by this author. Peter Force’s The American Archives Volumes have been scanned, edited and published on the World Wide Web by the author. As of March 2006, the 9,000 pages of Archives can be found at www.americanarchives.net.[xxvii]

The Declaration of Independence - A Brief History by Stanley L. Klos -- Authenticate your Declaration of Independence

Acknowledgments and Footnotes

The author is pictured here holding The Dunlap Declaration and Thomas Jefferson's Committee of Five Final Draft of the Declaration of Independence which are both housed at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

We sincerely thank American Philosophical Society for allowing us to photograph and inspect the Original Draft and Broadside of the Declaration of Independence. Please be sure to visit the APS web site by Clicking Here.

 

[i] Journals of the Continental Congress, Lee’s Resolution of Independence, July 2, 1776

[ii] Jefferson, Thomas Autobiography Draft dated January 6, 1821, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress

[iii] Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776. Part 1 is comprised of 53 sheets and 1 insertion; 210 pages total. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Page 2

[iv] Ibid

[v] Fitzpatrick, John C. The Spirit of the Revolution. Boston and New York: The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1924.

[vi] Journals of the Continental Congress, July 2, 1776

[vii] McKean, Thomas to Caesar A. Rodney, August 22, 1813, The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827

[viii] Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776. Part 1 is comprised of 53 sheets and 1 insertion; 210 pages total. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Sheets 40-41

[ix] Adams, John to Abigail Adams, July 3, 1776, Letters of Delegates to Congress: Volume 4 May 16, 1776 - August 15, 1776, Library of Congress

[x] Adams, John. Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, "Had a Declaration..." . 3 pages. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[xi] Jefferson, Thomas Autobiography Draft dated January 6, 1821, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress

[xii] Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776, Original manuscript page 3

[xiii] Journals of the Continental Congress, Committee appointed to prepare the declaration, superintend and correct the press, July 4, 1776

[xiv] New York Provincial Congress, Resolution supporting the Declaration of Independence, July 9, 1776

[xv] Declaration of Independence Sotheby’s Sale, See: New York Times, For 1776 Copy of Declaration, A Record in an Online Auction, dated June 30, 2000

[xvi] The DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions, Appendix A - Extant copies of the 4 & 5 July 1776 Dunlap Broadside

[xvii] Declaration of Independence, German Printing, Pennsylvanisher Staatsbote, Henrich Millers: Philadelphia; July 9, 1776

[xviii] Journals of the Continental Congress, Official Copies of the Declaration of Independence, January 18, 1777.

[xix] Walsh, Michael J., "Contemporary Broadside Editions of the Declaration of Independence." Harvard Library Bulletin 3 (1949): 41.

[xx] Opt Cit, Engrossing The Unanimous Decla­ration Of The Thirteen United States of America, July 19, 1776

[xxi] Declaration of Independence, The Charters of Freedom, A New World is At Hand, The National Archives of the United States, 2005-2008, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration.html

[xxii] Ibid

[xxiii] Frederick W. True’s Semi-centennial history of the National Academy of Sciences, A History of the First Half-Century of the National Academy of Sciences 1863-1913, pp. 279-284.

[xxiv] The Daily National Intelligencer and Washington Advertiser, June 4, 1823

[xxv] Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1823-1824 dated Wednesday, May 26, 1824.

[xxvi] William R. Coleman, "Counting the Stones: A Census of the Stone Facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence," Manuscripts 43 (Spring 1991): 103

[xxvii] Force, Peter; AMERICAN ARCHIVES: Containing A Documentary History Of The United States Of America Series 4, Six Volumes and Series 5,

[xxviii] Hancock, John to George Washington concerning the reading of the Declaration of Independence to the Revolutionary army, 4 July 1776, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
 


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