Jun 05, 2008 - Sale 2148

Sale 2148 - Lot 141

Price Realized: $ 132,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 150,000 - $ 250,000
(DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.) Stone, William James; engraver. In Congress, July 4, 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. Broadside on paper, 770 x 659 mm; browned, 6 small adhesive stains from old mends, dampstaining along right margin with slight color contrast, mended 30-mm tear on right margin, wear on margins not affecting text, 2 unobtrusive short closed tears, several small holes (less than 5 mm) scarcely affecting text except for the signature of William Ellery. [Washington]: engraved by W.J. Stone for the Dept. of State by order of J.Q. Adams, 4 July 1823

Additional Details

The Stone engraving of the Declaration of Independence is a cornerstone of Americana collecting. With America's original founding document preserved at the National Archives in Washington, Stone's work is the earliest facsimile available on the market. Legend has it that Stone dampened the original manuscript and then transferred the ink onto a copper plate by a wet transfer process. More recent scholarship suggests that Stone painstakingly traced or copied the image onto the plate over a three-year period.

By an 1823 order of the United States Congress, 200 of these Stone engravings were printed on vellum and distributed to high-ranking federal officials, state governors, and universities. A 1991 census identified 31 surviving copies of these vellum copies, mostly in institutional hands; a small number of additional copies have surfaced since. In addition to the vellum copies, Stone also printed an unknown number of additional copies on paper, possibly as proofs or for his personal use. The exact number of these paper copies is unknown, but they appear to have had a much more limited run than the official vellum version. This is only the third paper copy to appear at auction, the other two being at Christie's Los Angeles, 31 January 2002 and Christie's New York, 14 June 2006.

A comparison of the present paper copy with an official vellum copy at the New Haven Colony Historical Society demonstrates that they were printed from the same plate without major alterations. The crosshatching within the thicker lines is identical, without reinforcement. The plate was later altered to produce copies for Peter Force's American Archives series, with the original engraver's imprint rubbed out and a similar imprint added in the lower left beneath the signatures. Recent research by Seth Kaller, Inc. indicates that these Force copies were printed from the altered plate by Stone in 1833, although they were not bound into volumes and released until 1848. The present copy has the original imprint in the upper corners, and thus was printed before 1833.

This particular copy of the Stone declaration comes with an interesting provenance. According to family tradition, it was a gift from John Murray Forbes, then the American charge d'affaires in Argentina, to Juan Manuel de Rosas, the governor of Buenos Aires who was gradually assuming power as de facto ruler of Argentina. The gift would have been made between 1829, when Rosas first rose to power, and the death of Forbes in 1831. Rosas was overthrown in 1852, and spent the remainder of his life in exile in Southampton, England with his only daughter Manuela Rosas Terrero and her husband Maximo Terrero. During his final years, not long before his death in 1877, Rosas received a visit from other Terrero family members residing in Argentina. The exiled ruler reputedly gave this copy of the Declaration of Independence to his daughter's young nephew Juan Manuel Terrero as a memento. It has been in the possession of Terrero and his heirs ever since. This Stone Declaration of Independence is likely the only one which has spent most of its life in Argentina.

References: John Bidwell, "American History in Image and Text," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 98:2 (October 1988), 247-302; William R. Coleman, "Counting the Stones--A Census of the Stone Facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence," Manuscripts XLIII:2 (Spring 1991), 97-105.