Carroll, the last surviving signer of the original 1776 document, received two copies of the Stone facsimile in 1824 that later passed to the Scottish-Canadian diplomat and businessman John MacTavish (1787-1852).
Lyon & Turnbull rare books specialist Cathy Marsden said it had been “a wonderful surprise to find a fascinating and important piece of American history hidden in an ancestral family home.
“I was shown a pile of papers that had been brought down from the attic – mainly newspapers covering world events and the like but also a folded vellum document.
“I typed into Google the name of the lithographer William Stone and the date 1823 and it came up with some very exciting results.”
In the hope of maximising its commercial potential, it was subsequently sent for sale at Freeman’s, the venerable Philadelphia firm with which Lyon & Turnbull has enjoyed a marketing alliance since 2000. Estimated at $500,000-800,000 at the auction on July 1, five bidders made the running in a contest that, with fees, generated just shy of $4.5m.
Commissioned by secretary of state John Quincy Adams in 1820, William J Stone’s copperplate engraving on vellum is considered the most accurate representation of the original Declaration of Independence that was penned by Timothy Matlack and signed in Philadelphia during August 1776.
It took Stone three years to complete his plate that carries the words Engraved by WI Stone for the Dept of State by order of JQ Adams Sect. of State, July 4th 1823. In 1824, 201 copies were printed for distribution.
Two copies each were issued to the three surviving signers: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Of the copies belonging to Adams and Jefferson (who died within hours of each other on the auspicious date of July 4, 1826) only those from the Second President are accounted for – both surviving in the Massachusetts Historical Society.
A signed and dated inscription lower right to this rediscovered printing elucidates that both of Carroll’s copies had passed to McTavish and his wife Emily Caton (Carroll’s granddaughter and executrix). One was given to the Maryland Historical Society in its founding year (1844) with this second remaining in the family.
According to a census of the Stone facsimiles, only 52 of the 201 copies survive with only a handful having evidence that ties them to their original recipients.
As the owner of thousands of acres in Maryland, Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) was reportedly the wealthiest man in America in 1776 and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration.
A delegate to the Continental and Confederation Congresses, he later served as the first US Senator from Maryland (1789-92).