Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2021 Issue

Second Highest Price Ever Paid for a Declaration of Independence

D7fe8e7d-3312-4538-bf81-f1383025a553

Charles Carroll's copy of the Declaration of Independence sold at Freeman's. (Freeman's photo).

Records were set at Freeman's auction in anticipation of July 4 when a copy of the Declaration of Independence sold for over $4 million. According to Freeman's, that was the highest aucrion price ever paid for a 19th century document (not including books) and the second highest price ever paid for a Declaration of Independence. Americana is back!

 

Perhaps the surprising fact about a second highest price ever for a Declaration of Independence is that it was also the highest priced document of the 19th century. Wasn't it signed in the 18th century, all the way back in 1776? This cannot be a first edition nor anything close to it. It wasn't.

 

This copy was printed in 1823, 47 years after the original was created. In 1820, then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned facsimile copies of the Declaration. The commission to engrave and print a plate of the copy was given to William J. Stone. The Declaration was already experiencing deterioration by then, hence Adams' desire to have facsimile copies made. However, whatever process Stone used made it fade even more, so that his printings are the clearest copies of the original document in existence today, and is what is used for reproductions you might find in textbooks.

 

Adams commissioned 201 copies, of which around 50 are known to still exist. This is not an ordinary Stone copy. Among those Adams determined would receive copies, two each to be exact, were all surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. That did not require many copies. By the time these were printed, there were only three signers left, Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and the not as well known Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll is known for being the only Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence and for one other thing. Jefferson and John Adams died in one of the greatest coincidences in American history. Both died on July 4, 1776, exactly 50 years to the day after it was first ratified. That made Carroll the last surviving signer. He lived until November 14, 1832, age 95, and 56 years after he signed the document, the only signer to survive more than 50 years later.

 

Carroll was a large land owner in Maryland, one of the wealthiest men in the colonies before the Revolution. You might think such a person would be a loyalist but he was anything but. He argued against colonial rule, recognizing that ultimately, only revolution would free the colonies. He was selected to the Continental Congress of 1776, hence his becoming a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He later served in the Maryland Senate and the U.S. Senate representing his home state.

 

Adams' two copies of Stone's printing today reside with the Massachusetts Historical Society. Jefferson's two copies were dispersed among his family and their whereabouts today is unknown. Carroll's two copies passed to his granddaughter, Emily Caton, and her husband, John MacTavish. MacTavish gave one of those copies to the Maryland Historical Society (now Maryland Center for History and Culture) in 1844. The other? That was unknown for 177 years, until...

 

What it was doing in those 177 years is uncertain, but can be surmised. It was rediscovered by Cathy Marsden, a Rare Books Specialist at British auction house Lyon & Turnbull, while going through papers in the attic of a home in Scotland. She explained, “It was a wonderful surprise to find the Stone facsimile unknowingly hidden in the family home. What at first glance appeared to be an unassuming old document nestled within a pile of papers, has turned out to be a fascinating and important piece of American history.”

 

But, how did Carroll's copy end up in Scotland? That is unknown for certain, but one can imagine based on his grandson-in-law's name, “MacTavish.” He was actually a British consul in Maryland when he married Carroll's granddaughter, with ancestors back in Scotland. It is therefore not that surprising that it would end up where it did. Lyon & Turnbull did not reveal who the seller was, their wishing to remain anonymous, so we can't say whether that person was a descendant of the MacTavish family. What we can say confidently is that somewhere along the way, the owners lost track of the document, or at least its significance, so that they had no idea they had something valuable, let alone worth millions of dollars. We also can say that it made one more trip, back to America. Lyon & Turnbull and Freeman's have a cooperative arrangement so that the sale was held in the more logical location, Philadelphia, U.S.A., home to Freeman's.

 

The final price, after furious bidding by several parties on July 1, was $4,420,000. This number was a surprise, even to Freeman's, which put an estimate of $500,000-$800,000 on it. The buyer has chosen to remain anonymous. This price for a Declaration of Independence was second only to a first printing by John Dunlap on the night of July 4-5, 1776. One of those sold in 2000 for $8.1 million.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>26th-29th of October 2021</b>
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th- 29th:</b><br>Books from XV to XX Century
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Manuscripts and autographs
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Artist books
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Cars & more
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th:</b><br>Magazines
    <b>Gonnelli Auction 31, Oct. 28th- 29th:</b><br>Books from XV to XX Century
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor:<br>A Magnificent Illuminated Ashkenazic Prayer Book<br>19 October 2021</b>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Pancho Villa, passport for a news correspondent covering the Mexican revolution, signed, 1914. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Nirvana’s <i>Nevermind,</i> CD insert signed & inscribed days after release by Cobain, inscribed by Novoselic, 1991. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Robert Indiana, <i>The Book of Love,</i> complete portfolio, artist’s proof set, 1997. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Marcel Vertés, Colette, <i>Chéri,</i> two volumes, deluxe edition, signed by the artist, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Virginia Woolf, <i>Orlando,</i> first trade edition, first impression, London, 1928. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Mark Twain, receipt for payment of the Mark Twain Public Library Tax, 1908. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 28:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk von Gustav Klimt,</i> portfolio, collotype plates, 1918. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <center><b>The 19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop<br></b>Catalogue 190:<br>Magnificent Books & Photographs<br><b>Free on request</b>
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> William Shakespeare. <i>The Second Folio</i> (1632).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Abraham Lincoln. Autograph note on Black troops in the Union Army (1865).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Neil Armstrong. The largest known U.S. flag flown to the Moon on Apollo 11 (1969).
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> William Henry Fox Talbot. <i>The Pencil of Nature</i> (1844-1846) the first photo illustrated book.
    <b>19th Century Rare Book & Photograph Shop:</b> Albert Einstein. Letter on relativity and the speed of light (1951).
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Hawking & Hunting.- Turberville (George). <i>The Booke of Falconrie or Hawking,</i> second edition, Printed by Thomas Purfoot, 1611. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> George Steevens' copy.- Coryate (Thomas). <i>Coryats Crudities Hastily gobbled up in five Moneths travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia...,</i> first edition, complete copy, Printed by W. S[tansby], 1611. £4,000 to £6,00
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Butler (Charles). <i>The Feminine Monarchie: or The Historie of Bees,</i> second edition, Printed by John Haviland for Roger Jackson, 1623. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Brathwait (Richard). <i>The English Gentlewoman, drawne out to the full Body: expressing, What Habilliments doe best attire her…,</i> Printed by B. Alsop and T. Fawcet, for Michaell Sparke, 1631. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Glapthorne (Henry). <i>The Ladies Priviledge,</i> first edition, Imprinted...by J. Okes, for Francis Constable, 1640. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Witchcraft.- F. (H.) <i>A true and exact Relation Of the severall Informations, Examinations, and Confessions of the late Witches, arraigned and executed in the County of Essex,</i> first edition, 1645. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Hobbes (Thomas). <i>De Corpore Politico. Or the Elements of Law, Moral & Politick,</i> first edition, 1650. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Early steam engine.- Worcester (Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquis). <i>A Century of the Names and Scantlings of such Inventions…,</i> first edition, 1663. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Cookery.- M[ontagu] (W[alter]). <i>The Queens Closet Opened. Incomparable secrets in physick, chirurgery, preserving and candying, &c,</i> 3 parts in 1 vol., 1674. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A third selection of 16th and 17th<br>Century English Books from<br>the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>Thursday 21st October 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Speed (John). <i>An Epitome of Mr. John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain,</i> 2 parts in 1, 90 engraved maps, Printed for Tho. Basset, and Ric. Chiswel, 1676. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Le Boe (Franciscus). <i>Of Childrens Diseases... also a Treatise of the Rickets,</i> first edition, Printed for George Downs, 1682. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Oct. 21:</b> Economics.- Locke (John). <i>Several Papers Relating to Money, Interest and Trade,</i> first collected edition, Printed for A. and J. Churchill, 1696. £2,000 to £3,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions