[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE]. In Congress, July 4, 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. When in the Course of Human Events... [Washington, D.C.] Engraved by W.I. Stone, for the Dept. of State, by order of J.Q, Adams, Secy. of State. July 4 1823.
Folio broadside (31 1/8 x 25¾ in.), PRINTED ON WHITE PARCHMENT, light surface soiling and very slight abrasion, a few neat patches to the parchment in margins and lower left-hand corner (just catching a very few letters text). Archivally matted and enclosed in a fine, museum-quality giltwood frame.
A WIDE-MARGINED EXAMPLE OF THE ONLY AUTHORIZED FACSIMILE OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. ONE OF ABOUT 36 SURVIVING COPIES OF THE 1823 STONE ENGRAVING
Stone's meticulously prepared engraving of America's founding document constitutes by far the most accurate of existing facsimiles and the only one officially authorized by the U.S. Congress. In addition, its imposing size (mirroring that of the original engrossed parchment in the National Archives) befits the fundamental importance of the Declaration of Independence, a text that has become the defining statement of the American national identity, what Thomas Jefferson termed "an expression of the American mind," or, as a recent scholar has aptly termed it, "American scripture" (Pauline Maier, American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence, 1997).
In 1820, forty-four years after the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress and signed in Philadelphia by 56 delegates to the Continental Congress, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, the son of a Signer, commissioned William J. Stone to execute a full-scale facsimile of the historic document, the original of which had already suffered severely from fading and wear during its vicissitudes since 1776. The engraving of the very large copperplate, it is reported, took Stone a full three years, but the tracing process he employed, some believe, "did indeed cause some physical harm to the parchment" of the original document (National Archives, Declaration of Independence: The Adventures of A Document, 1976, p.17.)
Finally, on January 2, 1823, Adams formally notified the Senate that 200 copies had been printed, all on large sheets of expensive parchment similar to that used in the 1776 engrossed original. Congress, in a Resolution of 26 May, directed that the completed engravings be distributed in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The President (James Monroe) and Vice-President were each to receive two copies, two were allocated to former President James Madison, twenty to the two houses of Congress, two to each surviving Signer (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Charles Carroll), and two copies to the Marquis de Lafayette, shortly to visit the nation whose independence he had helped to secure (one of Lafayette's copies was sold at Christie's, 22 November 1985, lot 194). Because Congress designated the remaining copies to be given to colleges and libraries, few remain today in private hands. A 1991 census counted 31 surviving copies, of which 19 were in institutions and twelve privately owned. Subsequent study by Dr. William Coleman has enumerated an additional five copies, raising the total number of extant copies to 36. J. Bidwell, "American History in Image and Text," in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, vol.98, part 2 (October 1988), no.7; W.R. Coleman, "Counting the Stones--A Census of the Stone Facsimiles of the Declaration of Independence," Manuscripts, vol.43, no.2, pp.97-105.