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Rare copies of the Declaration of Independence on display

In celebration of the Oregon History Museum’s new presidential exhibit, “Windows on America,” the museum will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Fourth of July, creating a star-spangled opportunity to view two rare copies of the Declaration of Independence on public display for the first time.

Although the declaration, asserting the nation’s independence, was signed on July 4, 1776, it was not until 1818 that Americans were able to see the text in engraved writing as opposed to print. John Binns, a publisher of newspapers and engravings of famous Americans, conceived in 1816 a plan to print an accurate text surrounded by a decorative band of cords, flags, olive branches, state seals and portraits of George Washington, John Hancock, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams authenticated the signatures, each carefully engraved by Tanner, Vallance, Kearney & Company.

Nearly three years of work went into securing the artworks and preparing the plate for printing. Plain copies sold for $10; hand-colored copies were $13. The illustrated work was reproduced in 1872 as the first photoengraving in the world.

The second document on display is a rare Stone copy of the original Declaration. In 1802, John Quincy Adams hired William J. Stone to create an exact facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. The project consumed three years to etch the text and 56 signatures, exactly as written, onto a copper plate. It is likely that Stone put water on the Declaration in order to lift off an ink impression, a process that dramatically faded the original.

Stone commissioned 200 copies on vellum. However, the copy on display is what is known as a “Peter Force Proof Copy,” one of perhaps four copies printed on bank-note paper.

It is named for the government official who started the archival documents collections of the Library of Congress.

Force served as Stone’s assistant and helped in printing the 1823 facsimile.

Also on display is a letter from Thomas Jefferson to legislative leaders in the state of Georgia, expressing his appreciation for helping elect him to the presidency.

The Oregon History Museum is located at 1200 S.W. Park Ave. in downtown Portland. Museum admission is free for Multnomah County residents and Oregon Historical Society members.




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