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Rare French Facsimile of the Declaration of Independence
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Scarce French reproduction based on William J. Stone’s official copperplate facsimile done by order of Congress. This French edition was produced for an 1840 adaptation of Jared Sparks’s Life and Writings of Washington, appearing as plate 22 in the atlas accompanying the multi-volume work.

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Copperplate engraving, “In Congress, July 4, 1776, The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America…” Paris: Kaeppelin & Cie, 15 Quai Voltaire; engraved by F. Lepelle. [1840.] 25 x 32 in. Framed 30¾ x 38 in. 1p.

Inventory #20627.99       Price: $20,000

Historical Background

On May 26, 1824, Congress directed the distribution of the 200 official parchment facsimiles struck on vellum from William J. Stone’s copperplate. They were sent to the surviving signers and to the president, vice-president and other government officials and agencies. Two copies of the Stone Declaration were also sent to the Marquis de Lafayette, who, at the invitation of President Monroe and Congress, would soon enjoy a triumphal year-long return visit to the United States beginning in August of 1824.

Four years later, Lafayette was instrumental in arranging a meeting between American historian Jared Sparks and his noted French counterpart François Guizot. Sparks proposed that the Guizot oversee a translation of his work in progress, Life and Writings of Washington.  Sparks would not complete his epic project for another decade. In 1840, Guizot published his Vie, Correspondance et Ecrits de Washington in Paris by the Librairie de Charles Gosselin. This facsimile of the Declaration appeared in the “atlas” accompanying the publication. Given the connection between Sparks, Guizot and Lafayette, it’s likely that one of the Lafayette’s copies of the Stone facsimile served as the basis for this French printing.

Kaeppelin & Compagnie was active in Paris from the mid-1830s through the 1850s, and the Kaeppelin name was connected with the Paris printing trade throughout the century. The firm was at the forefront of French lithographic innovation, competing for prestige awards from the Société d’encouragement pour l’industrie nationale, including one for the development of a lithographic transfer process. The engraver, Frédéric Lepelle de Bois-Gallais, was for many years associated with the Archives Nationales in Paris. A paleographer and calligrapher, Lepelle was particularly noted for his facsimiles of historical letters and manuscripts.

There is a marked difference between the care taken at the beginning of this French facsimile, and the balance. At some point, likely with printing deadlines in mind, the engraver literally stopped dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s, although the signatures were copies with excellent results.

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