This rare signer's copy of William Stone's printing of the Declaration was remarkably found in a Scottish ancestral home by Freeman’s sister auction house, Lyon & Turnbull, headquartered in Edinburgh, and will be offered at Freeman's in Philadelphia on July 1.
06/16/2021 Latest News, News and Film, American Furniture, Folk and Decorative Arts, Books and Manuscripts
Update: The July 1 single-lot auction, This Important State Paper: Signer Charles Carroll’s Copy of the Declaration of Independence, achieved a historic $4.42M sale price, exceeding by a remarkable five times its pre-sale high estimate of $800,000. This result marks the second-highest price ever paid at auction for any copy of the Declaration of Independence, and is the highest price ever paid at auction for an American document printed in the 19th century. It more than quadrupled the world auction record for a Stone printing of the Declaration of Independence set in New York City in 2019.
Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s copy of William J. Stone’s printing of the Declaration of Independence—which will be offered at Freeman’s on July 1—was recently found within a pile of historical papers in a Scottish ancestral home by Freeman’s sister auction house, Lyon & Turnbull, headquartered in Edinburgh.
Lot 1 | A Rediscovered Copy of William J. Stone’s Printing of the Declaration of Independence, Presented to Signer Charles Carroll of Carrollton
This occasion of a Stone facsimile turning up overseas has precedent in a copy that was found in France,1 though that copy did not have the added significance of belonging to an original signer. It may seem remarkable, unfitting, and even ironic that such an important and distinctively American document should resurface not only outside of the United States, but also in a country that formed part of the very kingdom that our nascent nation severed connection with in 1776. The location of the present copy’s rediscovery, however, is rendered less surprising by its provenance.
John MacTavish copied over onto this copy Charles Carroll of Carrollton's inscription and signature from the copy presented to him in 1826, and then further signed, dated, and documented the fate of that copy
The document is signed, dated, and annotated on the front, lower left corner by John MacTavish (1787-1852)—a Scottish-Canadian diplomat and businessman who served as British Consul to the State of Maryland and married Charles Carroll's granddaughter and later executrix, Emily Caton (1794/5-1867). The two inscriptions jointly elucidate how each of Charles Carroll’s two copies passed through MacTavish’s hands: One copy was presented to him by Carroll in 1826 and then gifted to the Maryland Historical Society (now the Maryland Center for History and Culture) in 1844; this present copy presumably passed to him and his wife by descent after Carroll’s death in 1832. Though the couple primarily resided and eventually died in Maryland, John’s ancestors in Scotland, Emily’s relations in Britain,2 and their first son Charles Carroll’s diplomatic career in the United Kingdom3 all provided ample opportunity for the document’s subsequent transatlantic travel.
Detail of signatures belonging to James Wilson and John Witherspoon
Though undoubtedly a symbol at the very core of American identity, the original Declaration of Independence was, in fact, signed by eight men who were not native-born Americans; James Wilson and John Witherspoon both hailed from Scotland, while many other signers—not to mention important politicians and notable figures instrumental in shaping the young country—were of Scottish descent. The present copy’s links to that country through both its more distant and most recent past reminds us just how interconnected America remained with Great Britain in spite of our newfound freedom.
Freeman’s is delighted to offer this significant piece of American history fittingly just ahead of Independence Day in Philadelphia, the birthplace of our country. In recognition of the document’s Scottish/American ties as well as Freeman’s ongoing alliance with Lyon & Turnbull, the auction will be led by Freeman’s Chairman and Scotsman Alasdair Nichol.
1 According to an auction catalogue note from 2019.
2 All three of Emily’s sisters married into British nobility.
3 There is recorded instance of Charles Carroll MacTavish using his familial connection to Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton to position himself as a facilitator of Irish independence while campaigning for election to the Irish House of Commons in 1847.