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The First Engraving of the Declaration of Independence - The Only Known of the 3 Ordered on Linen (SOLD)
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“To Thomas Jefferson, Patron of the Arts, the firm Supporter of American Independence, and the Rights of Man, this Charter of Freedom is, with the highest esteem, most Respectfully Inscribed by his much Obliged and very Humble Servant Benjamin Owen Tyler.”

Benjamin Owen Tyler’s engraving was the first decorative print of the Declaration. A self-taught calligrapher and instructor of penmanship, Tyler copied and designed the text of the Declaration, and made exact copies (facsimilies) of the signatures from the engrossed manuscript. The exactness of his work is particularly impressive given the limitations of copying them freehand prior to engraving on a copper plate. Richard Rush, son of the signer Benjamin Rush and acting Secretary of State in 1817, gave a strong endorsement which is printed on the bottom left corner.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Tompkins are among the many notables who ordered copies in advance.

Tyler’s subscription book was donated by Albert Small to the University of Virginia, and now can be viewed online. After extensive study, we count approximately 1650 orders for copies on paper at $5 each, and 40 for copies on vellum at $7 each. 3 noted special orders on silk, 2 of which are known to survive. Only 3 were ordered on linen, of which this is the only copy known to survive. Silk and linen copies also apparently cost $7 each. The three purchasers of premium copies on linen were John G.[?] Camp, Buffalo, N.Y., J. C. Spencer, Canandaigua, NY and John Savage, Salem, N.Y. We don’t know which of the original subscribers ours belonged to, but it does have distinguished provenance, selling in 1979 in the Nathaniel E. Stein auction at Sotheby Parke Bernet, January 30, 1979, lot 47. Stein also owned Tyler’s subscription book, lot 46.

[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE]. BENJAMIN OWEN TYLER. Broadside on linen, engraved by Peter Maverick, [Washington, 1818], approximately 24½ x 31 in.

Inventory #23754       SOLD — please inquire about other items

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Engraved inscription in delicate cursive at top left and right:

“To Thomas Jefferson, Patron of the Arts, the firm Supporter of American Independence, and the Rights of Man, this Charter of Freedom is, with the highest esteem, most Respectfully Inscribed by his much Obliged and very Humble Servant Benjamin Owen Tyler.”

With Richard Rush’s Endorsement engraved at bottom left:

“Department of State. September 10, 1817.

The foregoing copy of the Declaration of Independence has been collated with the original instrument and found correct. I have myself examined the signatures to each. Those executed by Mr. Tyler are curiously exact imitations, so much so, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the closest scrutiny to distinguish them, were it not for the hand of time, from the originals. Richard Rush. Acting Secretary of State.”

Tyler adds in small characters at the bottom:

“Copied from the original Declaration of Independence in the Department of State. Published in the City of Washington 1818. The publisher designed and executed the ornamental writing and has been particular to copy the signatures exact, and has also observed the same punctuation, and copied every Capital as in the original. Engraved by Peter Maverick, Newark, N.J.”

Historical Background

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library of the University of Virginia, which owns the subscription book, provides excellent background on the Tyler printing.

In 1815, the United States concluded its second war with Britain… and American nationalism blossomed in its wake. Reinforcing this renewed patriotism, the passing of the signers’ generation created a passionate interest in all things associated with the nation’s founding. Several entrepreneurs sought to capitalize on this demand by rushing to produce the first facsimile printings of the Declaration of Independence – offering the American public its very first look at the document. In 1818, Benjamin Owen Tyler produced the first facsimile of the Declaration... (

Tyler’s business rival, John Binns, had started more than a year earlier, but his monumental illustrated engraving was not published until the next year 1819. For an account of the competition between Binns and Tyler, and Jonathan Trumbull who engraved a portrait of the signing of the Declaration, see John Bidwell, “American History in Image and Text,” in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, Vol. 98, part 2 (October 1988), no.2. Five years later, William J. Stone produced an exact facsimile of the entire document. 


Nathaniel E. Stein Collection, Sotheby Parke Bernet, January 30, 1979, lot 47. Tyler’s subscription book was the previous lot.

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