The archives of the American Philosophical Society, composed of an ever-expanding universe of 13 million manuscripts and 350,000 bound volumes and periodicals, with images and soundtracks proliferating daily, has reached the point where it is its own universe.
It is therefore not surprising that the APS, founded in 1743, discovered that it possesses an extremely rare engraved copy of the Declaration of Independence commissioned by John Quincy Adams two centuries ago and donated to the company in 1842 by Daniel Webster. The company just announced the discovery.
The unearthed document now ascends to the APS pantheon of statements, consisting of rare drafts and the first printed copies of detained newspapers, leaflets and brochures.
There are no immediate plans to display this unusual statement, engraved by William J. Stone, but it would be instantly recognizable to anyone who ventured into a gift shop near the Independence Mall. The original Declaration of Independence, kept in the National Archives, is quite accentuated and faded, almost withdrawn in its appearance. The bold and clear stonecut is the source of the countless copies exhibited and sold across the country.
These are copies of Stone’s copy.
“This finding adds yet another piece to what may be one of the best collections of statements in the world,” Company librarian Patrick Spero said in a statement. “APS holds the handwritten draft of the Thomas Jefferson Declaration, two Dunlap copies, one of which is the only known oversized copy, the Pennsylvania Evening Post’s first print and the first print in Europe. We also have the chair that Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have sat on to write the Declaration. Finding out that we have a copy of Stone completes this story.
But what exactly is a Stone copy?
Anne Downey, Conservation Officer at APS, has spent more than a considerable amount of time unraveling this issue and what it means.
At the request of Adams, then Secretary of State, Stone worked for three years to make an exact copper rendering of the original statement, completing it in 1823. He made 201 parchment copies to be handed over to living signatories of the document. and political heavyweights, a few institutions and himself.
Adams had been alarmed at the deterioration of the original statement and was seeking relief from its daily use with a copy, Downey said.
The APS copy now holds the eighth known paper print of the Statement Made by Stone from its original copper plate. Stone print 201 on parchment, which is made of animal skin and is distinguishable from paper; and many of them survive, although the exact number has not been determined. It is not known how many he printed on paper.
In fact, Stone was not known to print hard copies – like the APS copy – until one was discovered elsewhere in 2002.
Around the same time, Valerie-Ann Lutz, now APS Manuscript Processing Manager, came across a heavily varnished and burnished copy of the Declaration in the APS archives. Looking at the fragile document, she had a strong hunch that it could be one of the 201 originals Stone had printed on parchment.
“She got very excited,” Downey said. And for a while, it was generally believed that this statement was indeed a parchment stone statement. A number of experts have examined the oversized sheet. He even appeared in a documentary film about stone carvings.
Then, in 2013, Seth Kaller, an expert on early American documents and Stone prints, was called in to review the facsimile.
“He took a look at it and said, ‘Well, no it doesn’t,’ and he kind of brushed it off and, I guess, assumed that was right. kind of a cheap Victorian facsimile, ”Downey said.
In the midst of this divided scholarly opinion, a researcher needed to use the APS Declaration in 2015.
“We noticed at that time that he really needed a conservation treatment. It was very, very brittle, very difficult to handle, etc., etc. Downey said. She was puzzled over the document for a while.
“There was a very thick layer of varnish, and when I got it, it was a flat piece of paper, very thick and very muddled in appearance,” she said. “I thought it was a lamination of thin paper on thicker paper because the top surface was very, very dark. And if you watch where the tears are, the inside of the teardrop is very white, so I thought that was secondary support for this fine brown thing. It was just mind boggling. I couldn’t figure it out. And the surface coating made it very yellow, dark, shiny.
“Ultimately,” she added, “we just decided to call it a lithograph” – not a copy of the original copper plate.
But it lasted, and eventually Downey and David Gary, associate director of collections, decided the document should be kept.
“He said, ‘Well, you know, it’s very brittle. We need to be able to access it from time to time, for the researchers, so that we can go ahead and deal with it. We don’t know what it is – it’s probably a piece of Victorian junk, ”Downey recalls.
She set to work, carefully removing the glue and varnish, and after each careful wash, the look of the document changed, becoming less like a lithograph and more like “I don’t know what,” she said.
But when Downey put the document under grazing light, she could tell instantly that it was not a lithograph but an engraving – the letters cast shadows, clearly indicating the printing process. And she could see the hatching of the engraving on the large “C” at the beginning of the Declaration, “To Congress, July 4, 1776”.
She was now in frequent consultation with Kaller, the expert, who made many suggestions and observations about Stone and his technique. Downey tested the paper, which turned out to be thick and of very good quality, not parchment at all – and not pulp like a “cheap Victorian” copy.
How many paper prints did Stone make? Why did he do them? At this point, there are no answers. But the research continues.
“We tapped into our own archives,” said Downey. “You know, when you’re an old institution, there’s bound to be a few things that pop up from time to time. “
Spero said, “The research library is the humanities lab, and people come into our reading room and it will be quiet and people will be sitting at these desks and it will feel like they’re just reading. . But what they actually do is have a conversation that transcends time and space, and learn something new about the past. Even though you have kept it for 200 years, they make a discovery there and they will share it with the rest of the world.
“This is absolutely what we do. Libraries are really dynamic places.