US Coins  :  Miscellaneous U.S.

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    Historic Document

    Framed 1843 Peter Force Declaration of Independence Printing


    The United States came out of the War of 1812 rightly independent. The country had endured its second conflict with Great Britain and had doubled in size after the Louisiana Purchase. This was widely known as the "Era of Good Feelings," and as the 50th anniversary of its independence approached, a new generation was searching for concrete icons of the nation's founding. Their attention turned upon the Declaration of Independence, which became the object of several engravings and copies. John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, took note of the original document's deterioration and suggested getting copies made. He oversaw the project and in 1820, Congress authorized production of a facsimile by commissioned engraver William J. Stone. The process Stone used to make the copies was a new Wet-Ink transfer process in which the original document was wetted and some of the original ink was transferred to copperplates, which were then used for printing. Stone finished the copies in 1823, printing 201 on vellum and keeping one for himself, which is now residing in the Smithsonian. The rest were distributed to surviving signers, current and former vice presidents and presidents, various colleges and universities, and others. Of the original Declaration of Independence 201 copies, a mere 31 are known to exist currently, 19 of which are housed in museums. In 1843, noted archivist Peter Force used the Stone copperplate to print additional copies on rice paper. He intended to include them in his book "American Archives: A Documentary History of the United States of America" with only two changes: the type of paper used, and the imprint line was moved to the bottom left and shortened. Congress authorized up to 1,500 copies to be printed. However, after mounting expenses and increasing production delays, Force scaled back his number to only 500 copies. After the book project was cancelled in 1853, Force sold his collection of documents to the Library of Congress. Despite the John Quincy Adam's aim to preserve the Declaration, the original copy has been grossly mistreated. The Wet-Ink transfer process contributed to the deterioration as the parchment did not respond well to water and it removed ink from the original document. Additionally, the Declaration was displayed in direct sunlight for over 30 years and gone through some faulty conservation work and about ninety percent of it is completely illegible. Thus, the Stone/Force copies are the best representation of the Declaration of Independence as it was when it was signed in August 1776.