MATERIAL: Lithography
TYPE: Broadside
DIMENSIONS: 28 x 21 inches; edge-mounted on early wooden stretchers. floated and beautifully framed, entire piece measures 26 by 33 inches.
COMPONENTS: Illustrated.tabloid-size lithographic broadside
CONDITION: Foxing and toning, closed tears in image area, damp staining at edges.
NOTES: The example here is apparently Woodruff's second printing, without the "printed by C.P. Harrison" imprint. Woodruff later published a plate of facsimile signatures to accompany the print (not present here). The plate went through several other owners in the 1830s and 1840s, but Bidwell traced no examples of either of the two early states published by Woodruff, and we find only one other at auction, in 1995. Bidwell 4; Hart, Washington 595a.

Joe Bidwell’s article “American History in Image and Text” in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 98 (1988) identified 45 different printings before 1900. Mr. Bidwell himself, the leading authority on these Declaration broadsides, actually stopped by the auction preview and pointed our 1819 copy out, saying it was a rare one.
ITEM ID: 4796

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Declaration of Independence Illustrated Broadside

Year: 1819
Decade: 1810s
Century: 19th (1801-1900)

Decorative broadside printings of the Declaration of Independence first appeared on the market in 1817 and quickly became a popular expression of patriotism.

The Declaration of Independence, the foundation document of the United States, has been printed myriad times since its original publication in 1776. At first as broadsides, then as an essential addition to any volume of laws, it was from the beginning a basic work in the American canon.

In the period following the War of 1812, Americans began to look back, for the first time with historical perspective, on the era of the founding of the country. Among other things, such documents as the debates of the Constitutional Convention were published for the first time. Others revisited the Declaration—not the often-reprinted text, but the actual document itself, then preserved in the State Department. “The original [still] exists but is not to be seen. Over the years it has been displayed in such harrowing circumstances that the ink has flaked and faded and the parchment has creased and darkened. It has suffered so much that history books rarely reproduce the original but rather the facsimile made by William J. Stone in 1823; that is what it must have looked like, a caption explains, when it was legible in 1823” (Bidwell).

Because of the renewed interest in the variorum text, several 19th-century entrepreneurs set out to fill the gap. Among the first to do so was Philadelphia newspaper publisher John Binns. As early as June 1816, “Binns began a list of subscriptions for his publication of ‘a splendid and correct copy of the Declaration of Independence, with facsimiles of all the signatures, the whole to be encircled with the arms of the thirteen States and of the United States.’ Although Binns promised his copy of the Declaration in one year, the enormous scale of its design delayed publication until 1819. A few months prior to Binns’ publication, William Woodruff, a journeyman engraver, published an engraving of the Declaration almost identical to Binns’ work. According to Binns in an unsuccessful lawsuit against his competitor, Woodruff stole his design while working as a journeyman in the shop of George Murray, an employee of Binns’.

Woodruff’s engraving of the Declaration contained signatures in a uniform round hand, not facsimiles, and replaced the portrait of John Hancock with one of John Adams… It is possible that Woodruff was apprehensive about copying Binns’ facsimile signatures, an act that would have made his document identical to Binns’ engraving” (National Park Service). Bidwell 4.

Name: William Woodruff
Type: Engraver