This is a stunning 1818 engraving of the Declaration of Independence, the first engraved broadside of our nation’s founding document. The year 1815 saw the conclusion of the United States’ second war with Britain, the War of 1812, and our American nationalism peaked in its wake. Entrepreneurial publishers hoped to fill this demand and rushed to produce the first engraved printing of the Declaration of Independence.
At the time of publication, the American populace was hungry for prints, paintings, and books that retold and celebrated their nation’s founding. Two publishers- Benjamin Owen Tyler and John Binns- created engraved copies of the Declaration, however in distinctively different styles. Binns was the first to announce his Declaration printing and was the first to collect subscriptions. However his printing took over three years to complete and he did not publish his engraving until 1819. In the meantime, Tyler funded, engraved, and even secured an endorsement for his Declaration printing from the then Secretary of State, Richard Rush. Rush’s departmental seal is seen engraved at lower left of this broadside, along with his note: "I myself have examined the signatures... Those executed by Mr. Tyler are curiously exact imitations, so much so that it would be difficult if not impossible for the closest scrutiny to distinguish them."
Benjamin Owen Tyler was a master, self-taught calligrapher and this broadside is a testament to his artistic skill and prowess. Tyler’s engraving of the Declaration was the first decorative print with facsimiles of the signatures based on the original manuscript. Although rigorously exact in his signature facsimiles, Tyler made no effort to match the handwriting in the body of the Declaration. Rather, Tyler used the text as an opportunity to showcase his craft, with selected key words and phrases, such as “life,” “liberty,” “free and independent states,” and “rights of the people”, emphasized with artfully ornamental script.
At top left of the broadside is Tyler’s dedication to Thomas Jefferson, the quiet author of the Declaration’s first draft. Tyler's dedication reads: "To Thomas Jefferson, Patron of the Arts, the firm Supporter of American Independence, and the Rights of Man, this Charter of Freedom is, with the highest esteem, most Respectfully Inscribed by his much Obliged and very Humble Servant Benjamin Owen Tyler."
At time of publication, paper engravings of the Tyler broadside were sold for five dollars, while engravings on parchment cost seven dollars. A very small number were also printed on silk, however those are remarkably rare. Although Tyler assertively claimed to have received orders for over 3,000 copies, the copperplate matrix could not have produced so many impressions without significant wear to the plate. Tyler's original subscription book, part of the famed Albert Small Collection at the University of Virginia, records just over 1,000 names. The first subscriber listed is Thomas Jefferson; James Madison, John Quincy Adams, and other notables were among those who signed the subscriber's book.
This printed broadside is a large folio, measuring 32"H x 26 3/4"W. It has moderate paper toning, and several small stains, due to age and past display. The document has several small tears, and loss to upper right corner, all of which have been stabilized and corrected by a professional paper conservator in May of 2020.
The publisher’s line along the lower margin remains intact and is very strong. Publisher’s line reads: "Copied from the original Declaration of Independence in the Department of State and published by Benjamin Owen Tyler, Professor of penmanship, City of Washington 1818. The Publisher designed and executed the ornamental writing and has been particular to copy the facilitates exact, and has also observed the same punctuation and copied every Capital as in the original. Engraved by Peter Maverick, Newark, N.J.”
The engraving has been beautifully framed to archival conservation standards in a custom-built black and gold wooden frame, with gold spandrels, a black linen top mat, and UV plexiglas. Framed dimensions: 49 1/2" H x 43 1/2"W x 2 1/2" D.
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