Rare surviving copy of a document of July 8, 1776, proclaiming American independence – $1.55m (£1.24m) at Freeman’s.

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Those are the key words in a proclamation, signed by John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress on July 8, 1776, that prompted a bid of $1.55m (£1.24m) in a May 4 sale held by Freeman’s (26/20/12% buyer’s premium) of Philadelphia.

This adoption of a Declaration of Independence is one of 13 informing the states of their new standing that Hancock signed, of which only five are known to survive. And it is one of only two that remain in private hands.

As these Hancock-signed letters preceded by a month the engrossed Declaration (widely but incorrectly thought of as the original Declaration), they represent the earliest official written manifestation of American independence.

This rare survivor had been given an estimate of $2m-3m, but then it was only in January 2020 that this rarity was last seen at auction and took a premium-inclusive $1.04m at Sotheby’s New York.

Bid to $110,000 (£88,140) in Philadelphia was a 370pp, contemporary manuscript copy of the peace journals kept by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams during their negotiations with Britain to end the American War of Independence.

American Austen

Among literary lots on offer was one of only 750 copies that were printed in 1832 of Elizabeth Bennet; or, Pride and Prejudice, as the first American edition of Jane Austen’s novel was called when issued in two volumes by Cary & Lea of Philadelphia.

Heavily spotted and dampstained in worn and soiled boards, and showing offsetting and other shortcomings, it was in a rather sorry state. Freeman’s could locate only two other copies at auction since 1902, but as well as properly revealing all its shortcomings, the saleroom noted also that it was rare and completely unsophisticated. It sold for $17,000 (£13,620).

Plan on silk


Silk embroidered and painted ‘Plan of the City of Washington’ of 1802 – sold for $50,000 (£40,065) at Freeman’s.

Bid to $50,000 (£40,065) as part of the previous day’s general antiques sale was a rare silk embroidered and painted ‘Plan of the City of Washington’ produced c.1802 by the then teenage Grace Turner Cleaver of Alexandria, Virginia.

Based on a plan of the city drawn by Pierre Charles L’Enfant and Andrew Ellicott and published in 1792, it had remained with the family ever since.

Born in England, Grace seems to have been the daughter of a tavern keeper but later married an American physician, Lemuel B Clark (1753-1831), with whom she had five children. Her Washington plan had remained in the family ever since.

There was some scattered foxing and some discoloration throughout, as well as occasional silk losses and tarnished metallic threads.

Four other such Washington plans are known, all believed to have been worked under the guidance of a Mrs Cooke, who ran a school for young ladies in Alexandria. Two are in major US collections and another, by a Susanna Wilkinson Atkinson and dated 1807, was sold at Freeman’s in 2016 for $90,000.