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A Stone/Force Printing of the Declaration of Independence (SOLD)
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IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America.

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Copperplate engraving printed on thin wove paper. Imprint at bottom left, “W. J. STONE SC WASHN” [William J. Stone for Peter Force, Washington, D.C. ca. 1833]. Printed for Peter Force’s American Archives, Series 5, Vol I. Approx 26 x 29 in.

Inventory #25743       SOLD — please inquire about other items

The United States emerged from the War of 1812 truly independent. The country had survived its second conflict with Great Britain, and the Louisiana Purchase had doubled the size of the nation. Tested in war and peace, America was on the verge of enormous physical, political, and economic expansion. It was a time of optimism, widely known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” As the 50th anniversary of independence approached, a new generation sought out icons of the nation’s founding. The Declaration of Independence, with its not-yet-famous signatures, became the subject of several engravings of varying quality.

By 1820 the original Declaration of Independence, now housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., already showed signs of age and wear from handling. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, noticing the original engrossed document’s deterioration, suggested creating exact copies for posterity. With Congressional approval, he commissioned engraver William J. Stone to create a facsimile. There is still debate about whether Stone used a “wet” or chemical process to trace the original manuscript, helping to make the exact copy; we have found differences that lead us to believe that he did not. Stone finished his copperplate engraving in 1823, and printed 201 copies on vellum for distribution to the three surviving signers (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Charles Carroll), current President James Monroe, Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins, former President James Madison, governors, educational institutions, and the Marquis de Lafayette, among others. Just over a quarter of the vellum first editions are known to survive.

Despite the creation of the replicas, the federal government did not safely store away the engrossed Declaration manuscript. It was displayed in direct sunlight for more than thirty years and suffered disastrously faulty conservation work and other insults that have rendered it mostly illegible today. Therefore, the Stone/Force printings are the best representation of the Declaration as it was when members of the Continental Congress put their lives on the line to sign the manuscript in August of 1776.

Several years later, noted archivist Peter Force planned to include facsimiles in his planned documentary history. Congress authorized the project as The Documentary History of the American Revolution on March 2, 1833, and the State Department agreed to purchase 1,500 sets. Force immediately went to Stone to have copies of the Declaration printed, with only two differences: the second editions were on thin wove paper, and the imprint line was shortened and moved to the bottom left. The new imprint read, “W. J. STONE SC WASHN,” with “SC” standing for “sculpsit,” meaning “engraver.” On July 21, 1833, Stone invoiced Force for 4,000 Declaration copies. (Force likely hoped to sell as many as 2,500 additional copies of his series.)

Force also expanded the scope of his documentary collection, renamed American Archives: A Documentary History of the United States,to encompass six series from colonial settlement to the organization of the federal government in 1789. The fourth series was to cover the period from March 7, 1774 to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The fifth series focused on the Declaration of Independence to the Treaty of Paris in 1783. After mounting expenses and increasing production delays, Force received Congressional re-authorization for Series IV in 1843, but he scaled back his subscription plan to 500 copies. However, Stone had already printed the Declaration facsimiles. Stone published six volumes in the fourth series, and three in the fifth series. The first volume of the fifth series, which included the Stone facsimile of the Declaration, appeared in 1848. Congress canceled the project in 1853, and Force sold his enormous collection of original documents to the Library of Congress for $100,000 in 1867.

Librarians originally cataloged Stone’s second facsimile edition as having been printed in 1848, when Peter Force finally published his American Archives: A Documentary History of the United States of America, Series V, Volume I, which included the Declaration facsimile.

William J. Stone (1798-1865) was born in London and brought to America as a child in 1804. After studying engraving with Peter Maverick in New York, he established a business in Washington, D.C. in 1815. He did much work for the federal government, and in 1820, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned Stone to make an exact facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. In July 1823, Stone printed 201 copies on vellum for distribution to political leaders and educational institutions. Stone also received a patent for a printer’s inking apparatus in 1829. Stone continued to work as a printer and engraver in Washington for the rest of his career, and he became one of Washington’s wealthiest citizens, with $157,000 in real property in 1860. Stone was an officer in the Agricultural Society of the United States, and a founding member (with Peter Force) of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science. During the Civil War, the Army constructed a hospital on his farm. In 1821, Stone married Elizabeth Jane Lenthall (1804-1892) and she also became an engraver, specializing in maps. They had at least four children.

Peter Force (1790-1868) was born near Passaic Falls, New Jersey, to a Revolutionary War veteran and his wife. Force moved to New York City, where he learned the printing trade and joined the printers’ trade union, of which he served as president from 1812 to 1815. During the War of 1812, Force served in the army, rising to the rank of lieutenant. At the end of the war, he moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for public printer William A. Davis. In 1822, Force received a patent for a method of color printing. He founded and published the National Journal from 1823 to 1830. He supported John Quincy Adams for president in 1824 and served as mayor of Washington from 1836 to 1840. His primary achievements were as a collector and editor of historical documents. He published a series of rare pamphlets in four volumes between 1836 and 1846. From 1837 to 1853, Force published nine volumes of his American Archives: A Documentary History of the United States, under the authority of Congress and the sponsorship of the State Department. The seventh volume included a precise facsimile engraving of the Declaration of Independence by William J. Stone. Force had planned to compile twenty volumes to cover from colonial origins to 1789, but Congress canceled the project in 1853. His compilation is an essential source for the history of the United States between 1774 and 1776. In 1867, Congress purchased Force’s collection of original documents for $100,000, and added them to the collections of the Library of Congress.