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.