From the very beginning this document has been "the" pivotal document in U. S. history. The Declaration of Independence has been printed many, many times since its original publication in 1776. First as a broadside, then as an important addition in law books.
The original of the Declaration [the "parchment" copy which was actually signed by Congress] was displayed, often in very poor conditions, and as a consequence suffered damage: the ink flaked and faded, and the parchment became darkened and creased, etc. Two early facsimile printings of the Declaration were made during the second decade of the 19th century: those of Benjamin Owen Tyler (1818) and John Binns (1819). Both facsimiles used decorative and ornamental elements to enhance the text of the Declaration. Richard Rush, who was Acting Secretary of State in 1817, remarked on September 10 of that year about the Tyler copy: ""The foregoing copy of the Declaration of Independence has been collated with the original instrument and found correct. I have myself examined the signatures to each. Those executed by Mr. Tyler, are curiously exact imitations, so much so, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the closest scrutiny to distinguish them, were it not for the hand of time, from the originals."" Rush's reference to ""the hand of time"" suggests that the signatures were already fading in 1817, only 40 years after they were first affixed to the parchment.
One later theory as to why the Declaration was aging so soon after its creation stems from the common 18th-century practice of taking ""press copies."" Press copies were made by placing a damp sheet of thin paper on a manuscript and pressing it until a portion of the ink was transferred. The thin paper copy was retained in the same manner as a modern carbon copy. The ink was reimposed on a copper plate, which was then etched so that copies could be run off the plate on a press. This ""wet transfer"" method may have been used by William J. Stone when in 1820 he was commissioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to make a facsimile of the entire Declaration, signatures as well as text. By June 5, 1823, almost exactly 47 years after Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration, the (Washington) National Intelligencer was able to report ""that Mr. William J. Stone, a respectable and enterprising Engraver of this City, has, after a labor of three years, completed a fac simile of the original of the Declaration of Independence, now in the archives of the government; that it is executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity; and that the Department of State has become the purchaser of the plate.""
The copies made from Stone's copperplate established the clear visual image of the Declaration for generations of Americans. The 200 official parchment copies struck from the Stone plate carry the identification ""Engraved by W. J. Stone for the Department of State, by order"" in the upper left corner followed by ""of J. Q. Adams, Sec. of State July 4th 1823."" in the upper right corner. ""Unofficial"" copies that were struck later do not have the identification at the top of the document. Instead the engraver identified his work by engraving ""W. J. Stone SC. Washn."" near the lower left corner and burnishing out the earlier identification.
Since the original Declaration consisted of text and signatures, the later broadsides and lithographs were embellished with borders, vignettes, other decorations, and facsimile signatures.
Humphrey Phelps was a map maker in New York, and he together with Bele S. Squire, published a new version of the Declaration in 1832, the same year that Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the original Declaration, died. This has the original text and names the signatories in the conventional way, with woodcut illustrations of the American Eagle and the Capitol framing the text, surrounded by elaborate vignettes from the thirteen states with statistical information for each. An elaborate arch with climbing acanthus leaves and topped by the American Eagle is immediately framing the text. Additional vignettes naming the Presidents, reigning Sovereigns, Governors and the National Debt adorn each corner. The whole surrounded by an elaborate border. A very attractive and informative issue
. [Two copies located by OCLC: Albert Small Collection at University of Virginia, and Yale University].