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Newly Discovered Copy of Declaration of Independence Will be Auctioned


The Declaration of Independence printed by John Holt on July 9, 1776. It will be auctioned by Blanchard’s Auction Service on Nov. 11.

Susan Blanchard

On July 9, 1776, the Manhattan printer John Holt gently edited the Declaration of Independence text and then published 500 copies.

Only four of the Holt Broadsides, as the documents came to be called, were known to survive until a few months ago, when a fifth surfaced in a private collection. The authenticated document and related papers, which belong to a descendant of some of early British settlers in eastern Long Island, will be auctioned on Nov. 11 at Blanchard’s Auction Service in Potsdam, N.Y.

The copy, which Blanchard’s estimates will sell for $500,000 to $1 million, was originally delivered to Colonel David Mulford, a regiment leader in East Hampton. Uriah Rogers, the soldier who brought the Holt page and other documents to the colonel, scrawled a note on the package that he had “made Bold to Open & Read them.” Mulford, who became known for battlefield heroics, died of smallpox in 1778.

Holt had edited Congress’s original text by adding a statement from New York politicians and changing some punctuation marks. Printings of his page have also survived at the New York Public Library; the Westchester County Archives in Elmsford, N.Y.; the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, Calif; and the Cincinnati Museum Center (which discovered a copy in its collection in 2015).

The unnamed auction consignor’s ancestors were members of the Gardiner, Mulford and Buell families. In addition to the Declaration text, Blanchard’s has gathered about 75 of the families’ documents into another auction lot (estimated to sell for $25,000 to $50,000).

Written by farmers, ministers, whalers and housewives between the 1660s and 1810s, the pages record infant deaths and Revolutionary troop movements as well as mundane land and livestock transactions. There are also bookplates printed by Paul Revere for Gardiner patriarchs, as well as references to the family’s connections to Aaron Isaacs, a German Jewish immigrant who settled in East Hampton and was widely praised for converting to Christianity.

Keith Arbour, a historian in Cambridge, Mass., who authenticated the documents for Blanchard’s and wrote the auction catalog entries, said the rediscovered collection contains many mysteries for scholars to solve, in particular what happened to the families’ enslaved people, including Gree, Judah, Zel and Tobe.

Mr. Arbour wonders especially about Tobe, he said. The documents suggest that in the 1780s, the enslaved teenager escaped from the Gardiners, and they sent agents to track him down. After that, there is apparently no mention of him.

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