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Rare Important Declaration of Independence Linen Handkerchief
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The intricate design of this handkerchief features images of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, beneath an eagle and flags. In the center appears the text of the Declaration of Independence, together with facsimiles of the signatures. An oak wreath with acorns surrounds the text and features images of the seals of the thirteen original states. An image at lower left depicts the Boston Tea Party with the caption, “The Patriotic Bostonians discharging the British Ships in Boston harbour.” An image at lower right depicts “General Burgoyne’s Surrender to General Gates at Saratoga.” Around the edge runs a stars and rope border with anchors at each corner and at the center of each side. The design was printed with red ink using a copper plate.

The design draws much from prints of the Declaration of Independence by William Woodruff, published in February 1819, and John Binns, published in October 1819.

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Printed Cotton Handkerchief, ca. 1821. 31 x 33 in., framed to 35¼ x 37½ in.

Inventory #26474       Price: $28,000

Richard Gillespie (b. 1772) and Colin Gillespie (b. 1774) of Glasgow, Scotland, produced these handkerchiefs for the American market in the 1820s. A variety of American newspapers reprinted a notice of their availability from the New-York National Advocate:

We have received (says a New-York paper) from Collin Gillespie, Esq. of Glasgow, formerly of this city, two Handkerchiefs, the finest specimens of printing on cambric ever produced. The design is a facsimile of Binns’ superb print of the declaration of Independence, and contains the signatures of the illustrious signers with great exactness. In one corner is a representation of the “patriotic Bostonians discharging the British ships in Boston harbor,” of their cargoes of tea; and in the other the surrender of Burgoyne to Gates at Saratoga. In a branch of laurel, on each side, is inscribed the name of Hamilton and Putnam, and the likenesses of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The only deviation from the print, is the omission of the portrait of John Hancock.[1]

Some newspapers also reprinted a second, more prescriptive paragraph:

Our manufacturers should make it a practice to print their handkerchiefs with such representations of national events as will tend to perpetuate them, by exciting patriotic feelings and keeping alive the remembrance of such events.

Historical Background
During and after the War of 1812, a surge in American nationalism spurred interest in the Founding Era. In June 1816, John Binns began taking subscriptions for a print of the Declaration of Independence with facsimile signatures, which was to be surrounded by images of John Hancock, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the seals of all thirteen states. He did not produce the work until the autumn of 1819. In the meantime, rival printer Benjamin Owen Tyler produced an unornamented engraving of the Declaration in April 1818 with facsimile signatures that he dedicated to Thomas Jefferson.

While Binns was carefully developing his design, William Woodruff, who formerly worked for George Murray, pirated the facsimile signatures Binns had created. Murray was responsible for the Arms of the United States and the 13 state seals on the Binns version. Woodruff produced a very similar printing with minor changes, including calligraphic rather than facsimile signatures and the replacement of John Hancock’s portrait with one of John Adams. Woodruff published his print around February 1819, also beating Binns to press.

Colin Gillespie was a textile manufacturer and merchant who emigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1793 and became an American citizen in 1798. He between the two countries as the head of Collin Gillespie & Company. His brother Richard Gillespie took control of the cotton spinning and textile printing factories in 1808 or 1809. Colin Gillespie likely took copies of both the Binns and Woodruff prints to his brother to reproduce on cloth for an American market.

This print adapted much of Woodruff’s design and added the facsimile signatures from Binns and the vignettes at the bottom and a border to create a more elaborate design.

Condition: Clean; attached to a backboard using removable stitches around the border.

Known Copies[2]

·      Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, NY, red ink

·      Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, NY, red ink

·      Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE, red ink

·      Winterthur Museum, Winterthur, DE, blue ink

·      Cowan’s Auctions, November 20, 2015, black ink, different border

·      Hake’s Auctions, July 10, 2018, black ink, different border, different portraits

·      Jeff Bridgman Antiques, York, PA, sold ca. 2016, red ink, different border of cannon balls, cannon, and anchors

·      Early American History Auctions, August 29, 2004, sepia ink.



[1] Columbian (New York, NY), May 18, 1821, 2:4-5; The Farmer’s Cabinet (Amherst, NH), May 19, 1821, 3:2; The Berks and Schuylkill Journal (Reading, PA), May 19, 1821, 2:5; The Pittsfield Sun (MA), May 23, 1821, 3:3; The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), May 31, 1821, 2:3; Vermont Republican and American Yeoman (Windsor), June 4, 1821, 2:4.

[2] Herbert Ridgeway Collins, Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present (Washington: Smithsonian Press, 1979), 57, 72, includes images of one copy with black ink from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and another with blue ink from the Winterthur Museum.


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