June 3, 2009
New exhibition showcases efforts of 19th-century printers, engravers to celebrate the pride and inspiration of the nation's 50th birthday
A new exhibition at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum celebrates the birthday of the Declaration of Independence.
As the 50th anniversary of the icon of the American Revolution approached in 1826, the document became a source of renewed national pride and inspiration. “Declarations of Independence” showcases the artistic endeavors of five printer engravers who made the engrossed copies of the document for the anniversary that have since become an iconic image of American history.
A small group of printing and engraving entrepreneurs, including John Binns, Benjamin Owen Tyler, William Woodruff and Eleazer Huntington, provided Americans with 50th- anniversary versions of the document suitable for framing. They printed on superior paper or parchment sized closely to the original, decorated them with patriotic imagery or used various hands to emphasize the text as it would have been read. It is likely that marketing efforts, competition and disagreements among these entrepreneurs led the government to commission an official facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, created by William Stone.
In 1823, Stone printed 200 original copies and presented them to the few signers of the original Declaration still living as well as many government officials. Today only about 30 of the original Stone facsimiles survive. The Stone facsimile has served admirably, standing in for the original — now largely illegible due to age and exposure — since as early as 1837. The Stone engraving in the exhibition is part of the Pat and Jerry B. Epstein American History Document Collection currently housed in the special collections of Colonial Williamsburg’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library.
Opening July 3, the five 19th-century versions featured in the exhibition tell the fascinating story of the anniversary printings of the Declaration. “Declarations of Independence” was curated by Doug Mayo, special collections librarian for the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library and was made possible by a gift from Valerie and Barry Boone of Dixon, Calif., and family. The exhibition will remain on view through December 2010.
Entrance to Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum is through the Public Hospital of 1773 at 325 Francis Street between Nassau and South Henry Streets. Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket, Annual Museums Pass or Good Neighbor Pass.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.
Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at www.history.org.