Skinner Sells a Declaration
The Exeter Declaration
By Bruce McKinney
Skinner, the Boston auction house, for the second time in two years, has sold a Declaration of Independence and the price of freedom continues to be high. This copy is attributed to John Luist Fowle of Exeter, Vermont, the document lot 34 in their November 14th sale that was staged to coincide with both the ABAA and Boston Shadow Book Fairs. With so many experts in town the item was guaranteed careful consideration. Skinner in 2008 sold another copy for $625,000. This copy brought $380,000.
The description was austere.
"Rare and Historically Important Contemporary Broadside Printing of the Declaration of Independence, likely [Exeter, New Hampshire : Robert Luist Fowle, July 1776], State b, two-column format, lacking imprint, sheet size approx. 19.625 x 15.125 in., 500 x 380 mm.
Sotheby's Checklist 12; Walsh 15; Bristol B4408; with final three lines reset, including correction to "Hancock."
Provenance: Descended in a New Hampshire family, whose relative, a judge, likely received this document in his official capacity. The water stain occurred in connection to a fire. Thankfully, this rare and important document was saved for posterity. These early broadside printings of the Declaration, arguably one of the most famous documents ever conceived, represent the spark that finally ignited the smoldering powder keg of colonial resentment and desire for independence that led to the Revolutionary War. There are few documents still in existence that so summarily changed the course of modern history. Due to the transient nature of paper, and the heavy handling these broadsides would have received, according to the most recent data, there are believed to be fewer than 103 of any date still known to exist. This lot is only the sixth known of this printing in either state.."
Every copy is desirable, the language thrilling:
" When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station, to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation...We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions do, in the name and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great-Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved...And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor. Signed by Order, and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President...."
Skinner Sells a Declaration
This copy was purchased by William Reese and sold shortly thereafter. It is the fourth Exeter copy to appear at auction in the past forty-three years. The Thomas Streeter copy was sold in 1967 for $9,000, the Phillip Sang copy in 1978 for $9,500 and a copy at Sotheby's in 2000 for $387,500. There are other printings and variants and all are desirable.
In an era where iconic material, always collectible, is emerging as attainable, serious collectors are increasingly pursuing the once unthinkable. Many lament the changes the internet has brought to the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera field but one indisputable change has been increasing visibility. Since shortly after Lexington we as a nation have understood the meaning of "the shot heard around the world." These days, if material is important, those with the ears to hear now find such material and race to the site to buy it.
For Skinner their job was done with 192 words and superb timing. The next copy could show up anywhere and chances are, if appropriately described and publicized, the outcome will be satisfactory because more are learning that the impossible to obtain is increasingly within reach.