A lucky cheap hunter get much more than that bargained for once he to buy a old painting.

You are watching: Declaration of independence found in painting

Published30 June 2000

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A lucky cheap hunter came to be a millionaire ~ finding an original print that the declaration of independence in the structure of an old painting.

Urban legendry has numerous “windfall” tales involving fortuitous discoveries of seemingly ordinary objects that showed to be extraordinarily valuable. (See our King that the Rode article for one example.)

Every now and also then one of these windfall things turns out to be for real, however.

In 1989, a Philadelphia financial analyst purchase an old paint (a explicate of a nation scene) because that $4 in ~ a flea industry in Adamstown, Pennsylvania, mostly because he favored the frame. He preferred it even more once he uncovered that the paint housed a rarely and an useful document.

The buyer was investigate a tear in the canvas, and the frame dropped apart in his hands once he attempted to detach it from the painting, top him to find a folded file which showed up to it is in an old copy the the declaration of self-reliance stored in between the canvas and also its lumber backing. After a girlfriend who built up Civil battle memorabilia recommend him to have actually it appraised, he learned the the paper was in truth a rare original Dunlap broadside, among 500 official duplicates from the very first printing the the declaration of self-reliance in 1776. Just twenty-three similar copies were known to exist prior to this find, of which a mere two were privately owned:


This rare paper was offered for revenue by Sotheby’s top top 4 June 1991, and the lucky uncover fetched even much more than had been anticipated: the $800,000 come $1.2 million estimate turned right into a $2.42 million sale by the sound that the gavel:

“This was a document for any kind of printed Americana,” said David Redden, the auctioneer, who is a senior vice president at Sotheby’s in Manhattan. “It was far and also away the highest possible price for historical Americana ever.”

The copy offered is a crisp, clean broadside, creased follow me lines whereby it had actually been folded. The was published by man Dunlap on July 4, 1776, to bring news of America’s self-reliance to the citizen of the 13 colonies. It is one of 24 known copies of the Declaration, and also one of just three staying in private hands.

The ahead owner, that was no identified, had actually told Sotheby’s he bought a torn painting for $4 in a flea industry in Adamstown, Pa., because he was interested in its frame. Once he obtained home, he said, he removed the painting — a dismal nation scene — and also concluded the frame might not it is in salvaged, yet found the Declaration, folded and hidden in the backing. He verified it to Sotheby’s experts earlier this year.

Mr. Redden said he believed the man would be “rather stunned” to discover the price it had actually brought.

This charming story was later turned to a advertising purpose: In the loss of 1997, SunAmerica ran television commercials based upon the original finder’s tale, making use of the design template that you can either hope to acquire lucky like he did, or you could work the end an investment arrangement with SunAmerica.

This record was put up because that sale again in June 2000, fetching an $8.14 million bid from tv producer Norman Lear in an online auction. It then ended up being the centerpiece of the Norman Lear Center’s explanation of self-reliance Road Trip, which took it ~ above a three-and-a-half year cross-country tour:

The goal of the job was to lug the “People’s Document” straight to all Americans — particularly young world — to accumulate them to see citizenship together an opportunity; to take part in civic life; to practice their rights; and over all, come vote. Together the Road pilgrimage traveled come cities and towns throughout the unified States, the creatively combined elements the education, entertainment, and also community outreach.

When TV producer and also philanthropist Norman Lear learned the the Dunlap broadside would certainly be auctioned, he witnessed it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to lug it come the American people. Lear purchased it and development of the job now known as the declaration of freedom Road expedition began.

March 2006 saw a smaller-scale repeat of this experience as soon as Michael Sparks was searching a thrift shop in Nashville, Tennessee, and happened upon a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document. Finding out from a clerk that the item might be had for a mere $2.48, Sparks to buy it, took it home, and after act some virtual research ultimately learned that he had bought among 200 “official copies” the the explanation of independence commissioned by man Quincy Adams in 1820. He spent nearly a year authenticating and conserving the paper before marketing it in ~ auction in march 2007, whereby it fetched $477,650.

After Michael Sparks’ lucky discover made the news in February 2007, Stan Caffy contacted reporter mar Hance the the Tennessean and also claimed that he was the one who had (unwittingly) donated the valuable document to the Music City Thrift store in in march 2006:

“I to buy it in ~ a yard sale in Donelson around 10 years, ago, in Donelson Hills, i think,” claimed Stan Caffy, a pipe fitter.

For years, the record hung in Stan Caffy’s garage, wherein he works on bicycles together a hobby.

He married his wife, Linda, a little an ext than a year ago. As component of the ritual of combining households, she pushed him to clean out the garage, which had actually filled up v all kinds of extraneous things.

“I provided to be a packrat yet now ns am do the efforts to get rid of things. The finest I have the right to recall, we had a small debate about whether to store it (the Declaration) or donate it and also she won.”

And so that was that Linda take it the Declaration together with a heap of other stuff — an neck table, a shower head massage head, and also a faucet — come donate come the Music City Thrift keep last March.

“I’m happy for the Sparks guy,” Stan said. “If i still had actually it, it would certainly still be hanging here in the garage and also I still wouldn’t recognize it was worth all that. It is simply life. Therefore I’m no really upset. But you can’t assist but feel not an extremely smart for doing it.”

Published30 June 2000

Blau, Eleanor. “Declaration of independence Sells because that $2.4 Million.” The new York Times. 14 June 1991.

Hance, Mary. “Turns Out, Expensive record Was Tossed by man Cleaning the end His Garage.” The Tennessean. 23 February 2007.

Trillin, Calvin. “Lucky Find.” The Atlanta Journal and also Constitution. 10 April 1991 (p. A11).

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Winship, Frederick. “First printing of Declaration offered for $2.42 Million.” United push International. 14 June 1991.