DOYLESTOWN, PA, – An authentic anastatic facsimile of the original handwritten 1776 Declaration of Independence has been rescued from obscurity by Tom Lingenfelter of Bucks County, PA. Lingenfelter, historian and President of the Heritage Collectors’ Society, said the copy provides definitive evidence of how the original Declaration was damaged.
The little-known anastatic process, patented and used briefly in the late 1840’s until eclipsed by photography and other advancing printing technologies, produced perfect likenesses of original documents, a huge advantage over other contemporary methods. However, the process relied on taking a direct contact impression using an acid-based solution and occasionally damaged or destroyed the original.
The Chamberlain Collection of the Boston Library noted in 1897 that the original Declaration “was nearly faded out, a mishap said to have been caused many years ago by taking a copy by the anastatic process.”
The anastatic copy of the Declaration is the most faithfully and perfectly reproduced copy of the original Declaration ever produced. Research has uncovered references to only two such copies of the Declaration. One was sold in Philadelphia in 1891 by Thomas Birch’s Sons Auctioneers, who described it as
“an anastatic copy on parchment from the original… for all historical purposes more important than the original, as to make this they allowed the original document to be placed under a certain process, which enabled the projectors of the scheme to take a… facsimile… from the original. That this outrage was perpetrated on the original Declaration only too plainly shows as it is so faded as to be hardly discernible to the naked eye… and from which they were enabled to take a few impressions… this, therefore, really portrays more truthfully what the document was than the original itself.” [Emphasis added.]
Previously, damage to the original Declaration had been attributed to the production of the copies engraver William J. Stone completed in 1823. Those claims turned out to be pure speculation. It has since been proven that Stone’s copies were the result of superb engraving skills rather than a direct facsimile process. Until the discovery of the anastatic copy, Stone’s copies were believed to be the best likenesses of the original handwritten Declaration.
“This is a truly significant historic find, especially since no one knew it even existed,” said Robert Lucas, Historical Document & Ephemera Consultant at Alderfer Auction Company. “It answers the mystery of what happened to the original Declaration, America’s National Treasure. It certainty deserves to be described as priceless – far more than any $80 million painting.”
This anastatic Declaration is more important and rare than one of the reported 200+ Dunlap typeset (printed) copies distributed July 5, 1776. The last Dunlap copy sold at auction at Sotheby’s for $8.1 million. A Sotheby’s spokesman recently speculated that if the Dunlap copy comes back to auction, it would bring more than $20 million.
Lingenfelter’s research led him to Bob Giannini and Karie Diethorn, archivists of Independence National Park in Philadelphia, who quickly realized that they were in possession of the only other known anastatic Declaration, acquired in 1846 and subsequently relegated to storage. Plans are currently being made to give it a more deserving presentation.
“An extraordinary discovery, with a terrific story behind it. This priceless and rare example is the only direct copy of the original Declaration ever made, and the fact that the resultant damage to the original makes another copy impossible amplifies its importance,” said Jeffrey Ryan, a PhD in U.S. History. “The detective work involved in tracing the significance of the obscure, short-lived anastatic technique that made this faithful duplication possible enriches the story of this national treasure.”
Lingenfelter is currently in negotiations for the sale of the anastatic Declaration and hopes it will eventually be displayed in the National Archives alongside the severely damaged 1776 original to allow Americans to experience the Declaration of Independence in all its original glory.