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John Binns’ Scarce & Most Decorative Early Declaration of Independence Facsimile (1819)
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Historical Background
In 1816, the publisher John Binns was the first to announce plans to publish a decorative broadside of the Declaration of Independence, to be sold by subscription for $10 each. The project was completed in 1819, by which time four others had already imitated the idea and issued less ornate and less expensive copies, including a pirated copy of the Binns. Binns later said that his publication cost him $9,000, an astonishing amount at that time.

In a prospectus accompanying an incomplete state of the print submitted for copyright on November 4, 1818, Binns describes the work: “The Design in imitation of Bas Relief, will encircle the Declaration as a cordon of honor, surmounted by the Arms of the United States. Immediately underneath the arms, will be a large medallion portrait of General George Washington, supported by cornucopias, and embellished with spears, flags, and other Military trophies and emblems. On the one side of this medallion portrait, will be a similar portrait of John Hancock,...and on the other, a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. The arms of ‘The Thirteen United States’ in medallion, united by wreaths of olive leaves, will form the remainder of the cordon, which will be further enriched by some of the characteristic productions of the United States; such as the Tobacco and Indigo plants, the Cotton Shrub, Rice &c. The facsimiles will be engraved by Mr. Vallance, who will execute the important part of the publication at the City of Washington, where, by permission of the Secretary of State, he will have the original signatures constantly under his eye.”

The Binns broadside bears an engraved facsimile attestation to the accuracy of the document by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, from April 19, 1819: “I certify, that this is a Correct copy of the original Declaration of Independence, deposited at this Department; and that I have compared all the signatures with those of the original, and have found them Exact Imitations.

Despite the competition, Binns’ print remains the best decorative reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. Binns wanted to have his copy adopted as official, and one was displayed in the House of Representatives. For political reasons—and perhaps because Binns failed to include an engraving of John Adams—John Quincy Adams soon after commissioned William J. Stone to make an exact facsimile in 1823.

The Library Company of Philadelphia owns the original copper printing plate for this print.

[DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE]. Engraved Broadside. “In Congress July 4th. 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” [Philadelphia:] John Binns, 1819. Text designed and engraved by Charles H. Parker, facsimiles of signatures engraved by John Vallance of the firm of Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. Ornamental border, drawn by George Bridport, incorporated the seals of the thirteen original states after Thomas Sully, engraved by George Murray. Medallion portraits of Washington (after Gilbert Stuart, 1795), Jefferson (after Bass Otis, 1816), and Hancock (after John Singleton Copley, 1765), were engraved by James Barton Longacre. Printed by James Porter. 27½ x 36 in.

Inventory #27257       SOLD — please inquire about other items

John Binns (1772-1860) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and moved to London with his brother Benjamin, where they became involved with the politically radical London Corresponding Society. He was imprisoned several times for treason but released after a two-year term as part of a general amnesty. In 1801, he immigrated with his brother to Baltimore. In 1802, he began a Democratic newspaper in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. From 1807 to 1829, he published the Democratic Press in Philadelphia. It was the leading Democratic newspaper in the state until 1824, when it opposed the election of Andrew Jackson. In 1819, Binns published a facsimile version of the Declaration of Independence with engravings of the original signatures, seals of each of the states, and portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock. Binns published an autobiography in 1854.

George Bridport (1782-1819) was born in London, England, and began a career as a decorative painter/architect. He emigrated to the United States in 1808 and settled in Philadelphia. He contributed architectural decoration to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Philadelphia architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe extensively promoted Bridport.

James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) was born in Pennsylvania and left home at age 12 and apprenticed himself to a bookstore owner in Philadelphia. In 1813, his master released him from his apprenticeship so he could pursue portraiture. He became the apprentice of engraver George Murray at the firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. until 1819. While there, he engraved portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock for John Binns’s facsimile print of the Declaration of Independence. In 1819, Longacre established his own business, where he engraved plates for S. F. Bradford’s Encyclopedia (1820). He also prepared an engraving of General Andrew Jackson based on a portrait by Thomas Sully that achieved wide sales. Longacre also engraved illustrations for Joseph Sanderson and John Sanderson’s Biographies of the Singers of the Declaration of Independence, 9 vols. (1820-1827). He traveled widely to sketch subjects from life for the National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, 4 vols. (1834-1839), which he prepared with James Herring. The Panic of 1837 forced him into bankruptcy, but he recovered by establishing a banknote engraving firm with partners. In 1845, President John Tyler appointed Longacre as the chief engraver of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, a position he held for more than two decades. He was responsible for the designs of the $20 Liberty Head double eagle gold coin (1849), the Liberty Head gold dollar (1849), the Flying Eagle cent (1856), and the Indian Head cent (1859).

George Murray (1766-1822) was born in Scotland and studied with English engraver Anker Smith. By 1796, he was engraving portraits and other images in London. He first appeared in Philadelphia in 1800 and engraved the first banknote of the first United States Bank in Philadelphia. In 1810 and 1811, he organized the bank-note and general engraving firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co., which proved to be a successful business. In the United States, Murray engraved landscapes, animals, and several portraits.

Charles H. Parker (1794-1819) was born in Connecticut and became an apprentice engraver to Gideon Fairman (1774-1827) of the firm of Murray, Draper, Fairman & Co. He finished the text for John Binns’s facsimile print of the Declaration of Independence.

James Porter (1790-1863) was a veteran of the War of 1812 and worked as a copper-plate printer in Philadelphia from at least 1818. By 1836, he began to specialize in music printing.

Thomas Sully (1783-1872) was born in Great Britain and emigrated with his family in 1792 to Charleston, South Carolina. He began appearing with his parents in the theatre in Charleston at age 11. He soon turned to painting and studied with his brother-in-law until 1799. While living in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1801, Sully became a professional painter with his brother Lawrence (1769-1804) and moved to Richmond the following year. He married his brother’s widow Sarah in 1805, and they moved to New York City in 1806. By 1808, they settled in Philadelphia, where he lived for the remainder of his life. He became a renowned portrait painter, whose subjects included many notables, such as Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, Queen Victoria, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson. He produced 2,631 paintings during his career. Most were portraits, but he also painted historical pieces and landscapes.

Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co.(1816-1823) was a Philadelphia bank-note engraving firm formed by Henry Tanner (1786-1858), his brother Benjamin Tanner (1775-1848), John Vallance (1770-1823), and Francis Kearny (1785-1837). The Tanner brothers, both born in New York City, had been engravers and publishers of atlases and maps in Philadelphia since 1799. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, John Vallance moved to Philadelphia in 1791 and established the engraving firm of Thackara and Vallance with his wife’s uncle. They specialized in cartographic projects, and Vallance produced some of the most important early maps of Washington, D.C. He also engraved early currencies and worked on illustrations for Thomas Dobson’s Encyclopaedia, 18 vols. (1789-1798), an Americanized reprint of the third edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1788-1797).

Condition: Some typical edge wear and roughness; minimal conservation work to address tears on the left margin; very good.

John Bidwell, “American History in Image and Text” in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 98 (October 1988), 247-302 (also issued as a separate pamphlet by AAS), item 5. 

John Binns, Recollections of the Life of John Binns: Twenty-nine Years in Europe and Fifty-three in the United States. (Philadelphia: John Binns, 1854), 234-37.