Declaration of Independence broadside sells for $700K

Jeff Malachowski

A piece of American history that had been locked in a Shrewsbury Historical Society safe for years, sold Sunday at auction for $693,500, the second highest price ever paid for such a document.

Seth Keller, an antiques dealer from White Plains, N.Y., purchased the historical society's broadside of the Declaration of Independence at an auction of rare books and manuscripts, run by Skinner Inc.

Keller's purchase price of $693,500 was considerably less than the $8 million paid in 2000 for one of 25 known Dunlap broadsides printed on July 4, 1776.

A broadside is a poster-like document typically placed on a bulletin board on the side of a building, which relayed information to those living in Colonial times, Whitehurst said.

The Shrewsbury broadside was printed about one week after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, said Stuart Whitehurst, director of Skinner Inc. It is believed to be one of 100 broadsides that were printed.

According to Shrewsbury Historical Society President Dorbert Thomas, the society has no record of how the broadside came into its collection or who owned it. Thomas said the broadside was sold because it had no ties to Shrewsbury and because there was no safe place to display it.

``We really have no idea where it came from,'' she said. ``It's just always been there. We realized it was worth something, and we have no way of displaying it, and it has no connection to Shrewsbury. So, we decided we should sell it.''

``When I first saw it some years ago it was languishing in a box,'' said Whitehurst. ``They (the historical society) knew how important it was. They made a very sound and brave decision to do that because more people will be able to appreciate it now.''

Thomas said the society will receive about 93 percent of the document's sale price. The remaining 7 percent goes to Skinner Inc., an auction house that specializes in 20th century furniture, paintings and documents, as an auction fee. The historical society has no plans for the money, but Thomas said she expects it will go into the society's trust funds.

According to Whitehurst, the broadsides are ``very rare'' with only 100 known broadsides printed of the Declaration of Independence. He estimated the copy purchased by Keller was printed about a week after the original document was written in Philadelphia.

More interest was generated for the broadside than any other item Whitehurst has auctioned because he believes collectors and scholars are now realizing the importance of early printings.

``It is a very powerful document and over the past few years they have been escalating in value,'' he said. ``This was the harkening call of the revolution and it is an extraordinary document.''

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