Lauinger Library owns a very expensive document

Last month, Sotheby’s auctioned a 1776 broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence that sold for more than $500,000. While the auction fell short of its $600,000 to $800,000 estimated sale price, press coverage revealed a surprising fact—only four similar documents exist, and Georgetown owns one of them.

According to Manuscripts Processor Ted Jackson, Lauinger Library’s first Head of Special Collections, Marty Berringer, discovered the documents in the University Archives in 1971. Prior to Berringer’s discovery, it sat unrecognized in the Archives for “an unknown length of time.”

After signing the Declaration, the founding fathers tasked printers and couriers to distribute broadside copies to the colonial capitals. The broadsides—essentially large sheets used for public announcements—informed most colonists of their newly-realized independence.

“It would have been the closest thing they had to a news flash,” Jackson said.

Although couriers distributed hundreds of broadsides, a unique printing style made Georgetown’s copy rare—the document is set in four columns without an imprint that denotes printer or place of publication. (A 2000 exhibit titled “Treasures of Lauinger Library” attributes the broadside to a printer in Salem, Massachusetts.) In addition to the privately-auctioned broadside, only Harvard University, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Peabody Essex Museum own copies.

Jackson was unsure if the document has been appraised, but suggested that it is valuable.

“It’s possible that our copy would approach the value of the other one,” he said.

13 Comments on “Lauinger Library owns a very expensive document

  1. I have a feeling that there’s a map on the back of that document which will lead me to the secret Jesuit gold which Georgetown was founded to hide. But Georgetown would never let me examine the document and I have a feeling that somebody else (*cough* Todd Olson) is going to get his hands on it. I have to do the right thing. I’m going to steal Lauinger’s broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence.

  2. Why does Georgetown need to own this? Sell it. I want an education, not a museum.

  3. @Walker, what do you think your tuition is for?

  4. Sell it and start the “Raze and Rebuild Lauinger” Capital Campaign.

  5. It’s almost as if this blog post were WRITTEN FOR that Benjamin Gates character who’s been trollin’ round these comment sections. Hilarious.

  6. Archived historical documents are an integral part of an education. Selling off the Special Collections/University Archives would diminish the university’s status as a research institution. I hope they’ll display this copy again one of these days…

  7. if Eileen is being sarcastic or not…

  8. Eileen’s a history major.

    I feel as though that should be enough of an explanation.

  9. History majors can take a historical walking tour to the Library of Congress. At some point, rare documents are overly extravagant.

  10. The best part of this is that we had no idea it was there for “an unknown length of time.”

  11. Reports note that the document was discovered when John J. “Shiney and Smiley” DeGioia confused it for an old, bleached copy of The New York Post and proceeded to wrap his favorite glass New Kids on the Block figurines with it before packing them away in the special collections vault deep beneath his shed in the backyard. On learning of the document’s value, DeGioia initially expressed satisfaction that the endowment had grown by nearly $1 MM relative to Harvard’s, but then cried uncontrollably for several hours, whilst shouting “It-isn’t-FAIR!”, on learning that Harvard, too, owned a copy, as Harvard would. According to Provost O’Donell, university officials plan to display the historical document next to “some basketball sporting trophy from the 1980s” and “a Polish guy playing chess on the lawn.”

  12. Pingback: Vox Populi » Comments of the Week: Contrary to popular belief, we don’t condone Declaration thefts

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