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A Stone/Force Printing of the Declaration of Independence (SOLD)
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“In Congress, July 4th 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 25 x 30 in.

Inventory #22929       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Historic Background

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. John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, commissioned William J. Stone to engrave a facsimile—an exact copy—on a copper plate. Many still believe Stone used some sort of wet or chemical process to transfer the ink to create such a perfect reproduction, thus hastening the destruction of the original manuscript. In fact, he left minute clues to distinguish the original from the copies, also providing evidence of his painstaking engraving process. In 1823 Congress ordered 200 official copies printed on vellum.

All subsequent exact facsimiles of the Declaration descend from the Stone plate. One of the ways to distinguish the first edition is Stone’s original imprint, top left: “ENGRAVED by W.J. STONE for the Dept. of State by order,” and continued top right: “of J. Q. Adams, Sec of State July 4, 1823.” Sometime after Stone completed his printing, his imprint at top was removed, and replaced with a shorter imprint at bottom left, “W. J. STONE SC WASHn,” as seen on this document, just below George Walton’s printed signature. The shorter imprint was copied on subsequent plates.

Most descriptions date the “Force” printing to 1848, consistent with the publication of Peter Force’s American Archives: A Documentary History of the United States of America, Series V, Volume I, which included the Declaration facsimile. But Force had already procured the Declaration facsimiles 15 years earlier, when Congress authorized the American Archives project, and the State Department signed a contract for 1,500 copies. On July 21, 1833 the original engraver, William Stone, invoiced Force for 4,000 imprints of the Declaration. Perhaps Force thought he would sell as many as 2,500 additional copies of American Archives by subscription. After mounting expenses and increasing delays in producing Series IV, by 1843, when Force received Congressional re-authorization, he had scaled back his subscription plan to 500 copies.

This Force printing, the second edition of the first exact facsimile, remains one of the best representations of the Declaration as the manuscript looked over 150 years ago, prior to its nearly complete deterioration—very little of the original is legible today.