Found – The Only True Copy of the Original Declaration of Independence

Doylestown, PA – July 3, 2009 — The only true copy of the original handwritten 1776 Declaration of Independence has been rescued from obscurity by Tom Lingenfelter of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Lingenfelter, historian and President of the Heritage Collectors’ Society, has discovered the only true facsimile copy of the original Declaration of Independence ever produced. Research has uncovered reference to only two copies, one sold at Thomas Birch’s Sons Auctioneers, Philadelphia in 1891, described as “an anastatic copy on parchment from the original…for all historical purposes more important than the original, as to make this they allowed the original document to be placed under a certain process, which enabled the projectors of the scheme to take a …facsimile …from the original. That this outrage was perpetrated the original Declaration only too plainly shows as it is so faded as to be hardly discernible to the naked eye ..and from which they were enabled to take a few impressions…..this, therefore, really portrays more truthfully what the document was than the original itself.”

Robert Lucas, Historical Document & Ephemera Consultant, Alderfer Auction Company, said “this is a truly significant historic find, especially since no one knew it even existed. It answers the mystery of what happened to the original Declaration, America’s National Treasure. It certainty deserves to be described as priceless – far more than any $80 million painting.”

The anastatic process was patented and used briefly during the late 1840’s but was quickly eclipsed by photography and advancing printing technology. Its main characteristic, a huge advantage over other contemporary methods, was the production of a perfect likeness of the original. But since the anastatic process relied on taking a direct contact impression using an acid-based solution, it occasionally damaged or destroyed the original. As noted in the Chamberlain Collection of the Boston Library in 1897 the original Declaration “was nearly faded out, a mishap said to have been caused many years ago by taking a copy by the anastatic process.” The damage to the original Declaration had been previously attributed to the production of the copies engraver William J. Stone completed in 1823 – which turned out to be pure speculation without factual proof. It is now proven that the “Stone” copy was the result of superb engraving skills and until the discovery of the anastatic copy, the best likeness of the original handwritten Declaration of Independence of 1776.

The anastatic copy of the Declaration is the most faithfully and perfectly reproduced physical evidence of the original Declaration that has been produced or can ever be again. As mentioned in Birch’s auction catalogue of 1891, the anastatic process of 1846 produced a copy which is “for all historical purposes more important than the original” as it “portrays more truthfully what the document was than the original itself” in it’s present condition.

This anastatic Declaration is arguably more important and definitely more rare than a copy of one of the reported 200+ Dunlap typeset (printed) copies distributed July 5, 1776, the last being sold at auction by Sotheby’s for $8.1 million dollars. A Sotheby’s spokesman recently speculated that if the Dunlap copy comes back to auction it would exceed $20 million dollars.

Lingenfelter’s research led to the highly appropriate and exciting realization by Bob Giannini and Karie Diethorn, archivists of Independence National Park, that they were in possession of the only other known anastatic Declaration, which was acquired in 1846 and subsequently relegated to storage. Plans are being made to give it a more honored presentation.

“An extraordinary discovery, with a terrific story behind it. This priceless and rare example is the only direct copy of the original Declaration ever made, and the fact that the resultant damage to the original makes another copy impossible amplifies its importance. The detective work involved in tracing the significance of the obscure, short-lived anastatic technique that made this faithful duplication possible enriches the story of this national treasure,” said Jeffrey Ryan, PhD, MA (United States History).

The first public exhibit is planned along with an original copy of Britain’s Magna Carta from the year 1215. The exhibit runs September thru December at the Sons of the Revolution’s Fraunces Tavern Museum, the New York City site where George Washington bade farewell to the officers of the Continental Army on December 4th, 1783.

Following a proposed National Tour Lingenfelter hopes it will eventually be displayed in the National Archives alongside the greatly damaged 1776 Original to allow everyone to experience the Declaration of Independence in all its original perfection.

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