Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. The more famous version was penned by Thomas Matlack. Library of Congress

Reproducing the Declaration of Independence has had its challenges; Grandview displays latest “most accurate” version

A Declaration of Independence party is planned for Friday, July 2, at Grandview City Hall, 1200 Main St., from noon to 2 pm.

By Kathy Feist

In 2003, Richard Dziedzic purchased an oversized copy of the Declaration of Independence from the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing. With it he received a Certificate of Authenticity and a four-color pamphlet on its unique printing process. As one might imagine, the former World War II vet proudly hung the framed replica in his home. 

Almost 20 years later, Dziedzic is loaning his coveted copy of the Declaration of Independence to the City of Grandview to help celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. 

On Friday, July 2, the Declaration of Independence will be on display at Grandview City Hall, 1200 Main St. A small celebration featuring red, white and blue cookies, lemonade and other refreshments will be available to the public from noon to 2 pm. 

Printing of the Declaration of Independence

After Thomas Jefferson penned the final version of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the handwritten copy was rushed to a Philadelphia printing shop owned by John Dunlap. Dunlap feverishly worked through the night to produce 200 broadsides (small posters) to be distributed throughout the 13 colonies. Quick to get the word out, this preliminary version only included two signatures: John Hancock’s and Secretary Charles Thomson’s. 

It took six months to obtain the remaining 54 signatures. In January 1777, Mary Katherine Goddard, a postmaster and printer, was given the honor of printing the broadsides with the listed names of all the signatories, with the exception of Delaware’s Congressional representative Thomas McKean. (She proudly included her own at the bottom of the sheet.) 

Neither the Dunlap nor Goddard broadsides included the calligraphy we have come to know as the official Declaration of Independence. 

On July 17, 1776,  the new Congress resolved “That the Declaration passed on the 4th, be fairly engrossed on parchment.”

The engrossed, or handwritten, version was completed by Secretary Charles Thomson’s assistant, Timothy Matlack on August 2 using a quill dipped in iron gall ink on a 24¼” × 29¾” parchment. The ink, particularly when used in a convenient powder form that could simply be mixed with water, darkened as it dried. But over time, it faded to brown. 

By 1820, not only had the ink on the Declaration of Independence begun to fade, but after traveling from place to place to avoid British invasion, the parchment was beginning to show signs of wear. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned an official facsimile from lithographer William J. Stone. 

To create a facsimile, Stone would have had to duplicate the original document by pressing a sheet of damp paper on the original and transfer the faint impression onto another sheet. This would have further damaged the original copy. It is debatable whether Stone, an expert lithographer, used this method or copied the document by hand. Regardless, it took him three years to etch his copy onto a copper lithographic plate. In 1823, 200 copies finally rolled off the presses. This very sharp and readable version is what’s most commonly recognized as the “original” Declaration of Independence.  

But according to the Harvard University Declaration Resources Project, “If you are looking for a truly exact facsimile of the engrossed and signed parchment this 4th of July, your best bet is the 1936 engraving by E.M. Weeks.”

This is the version that Dziedzic owns and will be on display in Grandview.

E.M.Weeks was commissioned in 1936 by the U.S. Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing to create a steel plate engraving of the Declaration of Independence. Weeks based his etchings on 1903 photographs of the original document taken by L.C. Handy. The photographic image differed slightly from Stone’s copperplate version in the way of missing punctuation and handwriting. Weeks spent 1,300 hours recreating an enlarged version (26” x 31”) to be cranked out in 1939 on a hand-operated Spider press, popular during Abraham Lincoln’s day. Only 53 copies were printed the first day of operation. By the 1950s, over 2,000 had been printed. Today, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving occasionally pulls out the press to print another round of the enlarged, steel-engraved and most accurate version of the Declaration of Independence. 

Richard Dziedzic loans his copy of the “most accurately produced Declaration of Independence” to Grandview City Administrator Cemal Umut Gungor for public viewing. Photo by Kathy Feist

Proud WWII Vet

Dziedzic says he is an avid coin collector and jumped at the opportunity to purchase the Declaration of Independence, which is often sold through the U.S. Mint catalog. Raised by a single mother who immigrated from Poland and never learned to read, Dziedzic came to appreciate the United States and its opportunities. Starting with his stint in the military during World War II, Dziedzic spent much of his career working for the federal government. The spry 92-year-old vet currently works for The Telegraph distributing newspapers.  

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