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The First Facsimile of the Declaration of Independence
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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Copper plate printing, [Washington, D.C., 1818]. Facsimile drawn by Benjamin Owen Tyler (b. 1789) and engraved by Peter Maverick (1780-1831), 25 ½ x 31 ½ in., framed to 34 ½ x 40 ½ in.

Inventory #25076       Price: $35,000

With a resurgence of patriotic fervor after the War of 1812, there was a wave of nostalgia while just a few of the Founding Fathers remained alive.

This engraving of the Declaration was the first published facsimile based on the original manuscript. Benjamin Owen Tyler, a self-taught calligrapher and instructor of penmanship, penned a decorative version of the text followed by exact copies of the signatures. The accuracy of his work is particularly impressive given the limitations of copying them freehand, and then the difficulty of engraving onto a printing plate.

The endorsement of Richard Rush, acting Secretary of State and son of Declaration signer Benjamin Rush, was printed on the bottom left corner:

“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.”

More importantly, Tyler also won the endorsement of the author of the Declaration, Thomas Jefferson, to whom his edition is dedicated.

“Thomas Jefferson, Patron of the Arts, the firm supporter of American Independence, and the Rights of Man. This Charter of our Freedom, is with the highest esteem, Most Respectfully Inscribed by his most Obliged and very Honorable Servant.                                 Benjamin Owen Tyler”

Jefferson actually had qualified his acceptance of the honor, in a letter to Tyler of March 26, 1818:

“The Engraving you propose to publish of the Declaration of Independance will be an honorable monument to the memory of those who signed it, and with whom I was but a fellow-laborer. the sentiments it expresses were those of the whole body, and would have been better expressed by many of it’s members. the dedication to myself therefore of this consecrated act of a band of venerated patriots, will be accepted for them all, and as an honor equally belonging to all.”

Provides background on the Tyler printing:

In 1815, the United States concluded its second war with Britain, the War of 1812, 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.

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, and other notables were among those who signed the subscription book to order Tyler’s print. The original book survives in the Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection at The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library of the University of Virginia. We count roughly 1694 orders for copies on paper, sold for $5 each, and 40 on vellum and 4 on silk or linen for $7 each.

John Binns, publisher of the Republican newspaper The Democratic Press, was actually the first to take subscriptions for a decorative Declaration engraving. He started in June of 1816 but encountered significant delays in procuring accurate replicas of the 13 state seals and portraits of Washington, Jefferson and Hancock. Binns’ spectacular illustrated engraving was published in 1819, a year after Tyler’s. Binns publicly attacked Tyler for stealing the idea (probably not true) and for plagiarizing Binns’ explanatory pamphlet (true).

Tyler and Binns engaged in a publicity war, which is reflected in a letter from Tyler to John Adams of July 18, 1824:

I have been at great expence in publishing the Declaration of Independence—and am obliged to be from home a great part of my time to dispose of them to meet my expenses, and am obliged to use greater exertions on account of the unjust attack of Mr John Binns—

His leaving out your likeness has excited the just indignation of many of our most intelegent men of both parties, they consider it an act of the latest injustice, an act well worthy of Binns, I have not heard but one opinion expressed on the subject, even some of his followers censure him in this. A friend of Mr Jefferson in this city told me yesterday that he would not have one of them in his house, if he would give him one, and he thought it a duty which the American people owed to you, to discountenance his publication altogether—I have taken the [liberty] to send you a pamphlet containing a statement of facts whi[ch] can prove beyond a doubt that Mr Binns has no claim upon the patronage of the American people Being now stripped of [. . .] all plumes and his naked deformities exposed to public view I expect he will make a desperate effort to hide himself from disgrace. (

Sometime after May 1818, Tyler visited Monticello, spending the day teaching penmanship to Jefferson’s family. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jane Nicholas Randolph, n.d. [c. 1818-1826], Nicholas P. Trist Papers. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Binns countered Tyler by dedicating his work “to the people of the United States.” Responding to the proof that Binns sent, Jefferson wrote that “The dedication to the people is peculiarly appropriate, for it is their work… it has ever been a principle to consider individuals as nothing in the scale of the nation...” (Jefferson to John Binns, Poplar Forest, August 31, 1819. Thomas Jefferson Papers. Library of Congress).

Eleazar Huntington soon put out a simpler copy of the Tyler engraving reduced to 20 x 24" to make it more affordable. Binns’ copy was also pirated early on.

Both Tyler and Binns were disappointed when Secretary of State John Quincy Adams decided to order a new and exact facsimile to be made by William J. Stone. 200 copies of Stone’s exact facsimile, printed on vellum, were distributed by order of Congress in 1824. 4,000 copies were printed on paper in 1833, and are the basis of the millions of museum store-type replicas seen today.


Very Fine; by far, the nicest paper example we have seen.


Bidwell, John. “American History in Image and Text,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 98, pt. 2(1989): 249, 257.

Stein, Susan R. The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. c1993 Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

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