Auctions | April 6, 2016

Rare 1776 Massachusetts-Bay Declaration of Independence Broadside Sold for $514,000 by Heritage Auctions

NEW YORK — A rare July 1776 Broadside Printing of the Declaration of Independence by Ezekiel Russell of Salem, Massachusetts-Bay — the Colony's authorized edition — which was sent to an Ipswich Pastor to be read to his congregation, sold for $514,000 at a public auction of historical manuscripts held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel April 5, 2016 in New York by Heritage Auctions. 

The presale estimate was $200,000-up. Bidding opened at $160,000, and progressed in $10,000 and $20,000 increments. The winning buyer was a leading Wall Street figure who wishes to remain anonymous. 

The broadside is one of few surviving specimens created by Ezekiel Russell (1743-1798), a Boston-born printer. It was sent to the Rev. Lev. Frisbie, a minister in Ipswich, the tenth pastor of the First Congregationalist Church at Ipswich, Massachusetts.

“The earliest broadside printings of the Declaration, of which this is one, were ephemeral in nature and extremely few have survived to this day," said Sandra Palomino, Director of Historical Manuscripts at Heritage Auctions, the company conducting the auction. “This document was printed within days of the founding of the United States and has survived almost 250 years since that time. It's an extraordinary thing." 

Once the text of the Declaration was ratified July 4, 1776, the fledgling Congress issued it to be read to the public throughout the colonies. The first printing was a broadside printed in Philadelphia by John Dunlap on the evening of July 4, 1776, likely copied from a handwritten version by Thomas Jefferson. Throughout the next several weeks, additional versions were printed as broadsides, in books, and published in newspapers. 

On July 17, 1776, the Massachusetts Bay Council resolved to order an official printing. This Salem broadside text, notably, was signed in type by only two at the close: “Signed by Order and in Behalf of the Congress, John Hancock, President. Attest, Charles Thompson [sic], Secretary". The later version is, of course, famously signed by 56 delegates.

“This was an historic church," said Palomino, “having been founded in 1634 as the ninth church in the Massachusetts Colony. It is likely that Rev. Frisbie read this very copy of the Declaration aloud to his congregation on the afternoon of July 21, 1776, or the next Sunday at the latest. You can imagine what an exciting event that must have been for his congregants."

It's a common, but erroneous, assumption that the familiar handwritten Declaration, with its numerous signatures below, was the original drafted version of the document. That version was not written until July 19 and not signed by all the original signers until early August. The text of this present broadside precedes that and contains the original opening title: 

The Declaration was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, proclaiming the 13 American colonies to be independent sovereign states, no longer part of the British Empire, but rather part of a new nation, the United States of America. The document's second sentence, ""We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is one of the greatest statements ever made on the subject of human rights.