Declaration of Independence early printing sells for $3.36 million at Sotheby's

Document was printed just one week after Continental Congress first ratified Declaration

Cover Image for Declaration of Independence early printing sells for $3.36 million at Sotheby's
The Declaration of Independence is a crown jewel in the world of document collecting. (Credit: Sotheby's)

An early printing of the Declaration of Independence sold for $3.36 million at Sotheby’s on Wednesday, landing smack in the middle of the pre-sale estimate range of $2 million to $5 million.

The price represents an auction record for any copy of its variant.

This copy, a hybrid between a broadside (single printed page with text on one side) and a newspaper printing, was published in the New York Journal by John Holt on July 11, 1776, a week after the Continental Congress first ratified the historic document.

Seth Kaller, expert authenticator and appraiser of American historic documents, explained the value and desirability of copies of Declaration broadsides is largely determined by the chronology with which it was printed, making this example a particularly coveted piece given its proximity to July 4.

The first printings of the document were created by Continental Congress printer John Dunlap, producing an estimated 500 to 1,000 copies. This “Dunlap Broadside” printing is the first and most valuable. Today, around 26 examples remain extant, with nearly all in public institutions.

The last time an example sold publicly, it realized $8.14 million in 2000. These copies are considered nearly-unobtainable, making later July 1776 editions the most expensive printings available for purchase on the public market. Wednesday's sale is the highest price ever paid publicly for a non-Dunlap broadside.

Broadsides from this category were typically printed in the colonies in the days and weeks after July 4, meant to communicate the historic news to the townspeople via public readings and displays.

Newspaper copies are typically deemed less valuable by collectors, in part due to aesthetic appeal, however, the extremely early printing of the Holt copy clearly superseded any of these concerns, leap-frogging a recent sale of another rare broadside, printing between July and August 1776, which sold for $2.895 million at Heritage in 2023.

The signed and engrossed copy of the Declaration, displayed in the National Archives, was not completed until August.

In rare cases, later printings have become extremely valuable as well. A facsimile print created in 1823, one of just 200, sold for $375,000 in May 2022.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.