CINCINNATI (AP) — A rare Declaration of Independence copy printed more than two centuries ago and tucked away in historical archives in Ohio for more than 140 years will be displayed publicly for the first time by a Cincinnati museum.
The broadside printed by newspaper publisher and printer John Holt in White Plains, New York, on July 9, 1776, is one of just four of the poster-like documents he made that still survives.
Cincinnati Museum Center officials say they didn’t know how rare the Holt broadside was until experts from Christie’s auction house authenticated the broadside, which was historically used for advertisements and news, including political proclamations.
“We’re thrilled to have this national treasure that is a very important piece of American and world history,” said Elizabeth Pierce, the center’s CEO and president. “These broadsides were like the social media of the times.”
The other Holt broadsides of the Declaration of Independence are at the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, New York, the New York Public Library in New York City and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, said Chris Coover, a Christie’s senior vice president who specializes in American historical documents.
He estimates the broadside could be worth as much as $800,000 to more than $1 million, and says broadsides of the historic national document played a major role in the nation’s birth.
“They were very important,” Coover said. “Broadsides ended up being the principal way of disseminating the Declaration of Independence to the public.”
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, authorizing Philadelphia printer John Dunlap to set in type and print the first broadsides of the document. An unknown number of copies were to be distributed to state legislatures, assemblies and high-ranking officers. Some broadsides by Dunlap and other printers still exist, but those made by Holt are among the rarest, Coover said.
New York’s provincial congress approved the declaration on July 9, 1776, authorizing Holt to print 500 copies of his broadside, according to the Cincinnati museum.
The broadside in Cincinnati bears the signature of Richard Fosdick, a New London, Connecticut, native who brought the document with him when he settled in the southwest Ohio city in 1810. Museum officials don’t know how he came to have the sheet of paper displaying the declaration in two columns on one side, surrounded by a decorative border. A statement from the secretary of New York’s provincial congress showing that New York endorsed the declaration is at the top of the page, with a line at the bottom showing Holt as the printer.
Fosdick, a pork packer, town council member and county treasurer, died in 1837, and it’s believed that his descendants probably donated the document to the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio in the 1870s. That society was the predecessor of the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, which is part of the Cincinnati Museum Center.
A retired University of Cincinnati history professor, specializing in the American Revolution, expects the broadside will likely draw “real interest” from the public. John K. Alexander said people are naturally attracted to items that aren’t modern-day reproductions.
“This actually was printed during the era of the American Revolution,” he said. “That is the kind of thing that people are drawn to, particularly where it hasn’t been known to have existed,” he said.
Center spokesman Cody Hefner says officials have been waiting for the right opportunity to exhibit the document, which will go on display May 15 in a “Treasures of Our Military Past” exhibit.