Historical Background on the Engraved "Declaration of Independence" by John Binns
From the National Park Service
"To appeal to growing American patriotic sentiments, John Binns began work on “a splendid and correct copy of the Declaration of Independence, with fac-similes of all the signatures, the whole to be encircled with the arms of the thirteen States and of the United States” in June of 1816. Binns employed as many as five artists to assist with the design, most notably Thomas Sully. The state seals surrounding the text are a symbolic representation of national unity. James Porter printed the 1819 Binns Declaration in Philadelphia.
There are an estimated one hundred copies."
From University Archives, auction house, describing this document in 2019, which sold at auction for $7,500.
"John Binns’ Scarce and Decorative Early 19th Century (1819) Declaration of Independence Facsimile
Engraved broadside of the Declaration of Independence. “In Congress July 4th. 1776. The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America.” [Philadelphia:] John Binns, 1819. Text engraved by C. H. Parker, facsimiles of signatures engraved by Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. Ornamental border incorporating the seals of the thirteen original states after Thomas Sully. Medallion portraits of Washington (after Gilbert Stuart, 1795), Jefferson (after Bass Otis, 1816), and Hancock (after John Singleton Copley, 1765), engraved by James Barton Longacre. Framed to 35.5” x 45.75”.
In 1816, the publisher John Binns was first to announce plans to publish a decorative broadside of the Declaration of Independence, to be sold by subscription for $10 each. The project was completed in 1819, by which time four others had already imitated the idea and issued less ornate and less expensive copies, including a pirated copy of the Binns. Binns later said that his publication cost him $9,000, an astonishing amount at that time.
The Binns broadside bears an engraved facsimile attestation to the accuracy of the document by John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State: “I certify, that this is a Correct copy of the original Declaration of Independence, deposited at this Department; and that I have compared all the signatures with those of the original, and have found them Exact Imitations.”
Despite the competition Binns’ print remains the best decorative reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. Binns wanted to have his copy adopted as official, and one was displayed in the House of Representatives. For political reasons—and perhaps because Binns failed to include an engraving of John Adams—John Quincy Adams soon after commissioned William J. Stone to make an exact facsimile (in 1823).
John Binns (1772-1860) was born in Dublin, Ireland, and moved to London with his brother Benjamin, where they became involved with the politically radical London Corresponding Society. He was imprisoned several times for treason but released after a two-year term as part of a general amnesty. In 1801, he immigrated with his brother to Baltimore. In 1802, he began a Democratic newspaper in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. From 1807 to 1829, he published the Democratic Press in Philadelphia. It was the leading Democratic newspaper in the state until 1824, when it opposed the election of Andrew Jackson. In 1819, Binns published a facsimile version of the Declaration of Independence with engravings of the original signatures, seals of each of the states, and portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Hancock. Binns published an autobiography in 1854."
From the Library of Congress:
"Print shows a facsimile of the Declaration of Independence, in an ornamental oval frame with medallions of seals of the thirteen original colonies, and medallion portraits of John Hancock, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. Above is an eagle with shield, olive branch, and arrows, holding a streamer reading "E Pluribus Unum." An incomplete state of the print was deposited for copyright by John Binns on November 4, 1818. It was accompanied by a prospectus card which describes the print thus: "A Splendid Edition of the Declaration of Independence. The Design in imitation of Bas Relief, will encircle the Declaration as a cordon of honor, surmounted by the Arms of the United States. Immediately underneath the arms, will be a large medallion portrait of General George Washington, supported by cornucopiae, and embellished with spears, flags, and other Military trophies and emblems. On the one side of this medallion portrait, will be a similar portrait of John Hancock,...and on the other, a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. "The arms of 'The Thirteen United States' in medallion, united by wreaths of olive leaves, will form the remainder of the cordon, which will be further enriched by some of the characteristic productions of the United States; such as the Tobacco and Indigo plants, the Cotton Shrub, Rice &c. The fac similes [sic] will be engraved by Mr. Vallance, who will execute the important part of the publication at the City of Washington, where, by permission of the Secretary of State, he will have the original signatures constantly under his eye." At the bottom of the print appears an endorsement by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams which reads, "Department of State, 19th, April 1819. I certify, that this is a Correct copy of the original Declaration of Independence, deposited at this Department; and that I have compared all the signatures of the original, and found them Exact Imitations." The "Port Folio" magazine (Philadelphia) for January 1819 reports, "We have at length been gratified with the sight of a proof-sheet of the splendid copy of the 'declaration of Independence;' and we declare that it deserves the most liberal support . . . ." The writer goes on to mention that Binns's print prompted a rash of inferior imitations."
"Printed across bottom: Originally designed by John Binns. Ornamental part drawn by Geo. Bridport. Arms of the United States, and the Thirteen States drawn from Official Documents by Thos. Sully. Portrait of Genl. Washington, painted in 1795 by Stuart. Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, painted in 1816 by Otis. Portrait of John Hancock, painted in 1765 by Copley. Ornamental Part, Arms of the United States, and the Thirteen States, engraved by Geo. Murray. The writing designed and engraved by C.H. Parker. Portraits engraved by J.B.Longacre. Printed by James Porter."
Sources: NPS, University Archives, Library of Congress