HISTORY OF THE FIRST COLOR FACSIMILE PRINT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
(The Unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America) Engrossed-Signed Document.
The first officially signed war document of the United States of America. The Second Continental Congress had formally dissolved all allegiance to the British Crown on July 2, 1776. The original resolution for Independence was placed before the Congress on June 7, 1776. The creation of a formal Declaration was called for on July 2, 1776 and was formally agreed to on the 4th of July. On July 19, 1776 the formal, engrossed Declaration was ordered and was to be signed by every member of Congress.
This engrossed document on parchment(Sheep Skin) was first signed by the members present on August 2, 1776. Two corrections to the hand written document were made by Thomas Jefferson. The last signatures were not added to the Declaration until the end of November 1776. There is a possibility that Thomas Mckean of Delaware did not sign the Declaration until after January 17, 1777.
Thus, the formal signed "Charter of Freedom" engrossed document of the United States of`America was created. Hostilities were already underway. The signers of the Declaration and the patriots of a new country boldly faced a bloody struggle with the most powerful nation in the western world.
Today, the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence, is displayed for the American people at the National Archives-Rotunda Washington, D. C. along with the United States Constitution of 1787. These documents are housed in a special vault weighing 55 tons built in 1952. The Declaration is sealed in an airtight frame made of bronze with special glass. Helium, an inert gas, and a small amount of water are sealed in this frame. The frame is checked and carefully examined every several years. The last inspection was in 1996. The vault is actually part of the display area that a visitor sees at the National Archives.
The publisher of Historical Document Reproduction, Inc., James K. Mitchell, Jr., first viewed the Declaration at the National Archives in 1983. He has since ordered many of our most important war documents photographed for the first time in color.
When a visitor to the National Archives sees the Declaration of Independence for the first time, a feeling of profound reverence can be experienced. Unfortunately, what the visitor can see is severely distorted by heavy screens that protect the parchment document from harmful light rays. The document appears greenish with the signatures and text reflecting a whitish color.
The engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence was photographed for the first time in black and white photography in 1903 and again in 1924 when it was put on display at the Library of Congress. One of these photographs shows the use of thumbtacks to hold the document in place.
The first color photograph of the document was taken in 1987 for the Bicentennial Celebration. An excellent image was made exposing a color transparency with inserted Kodak Color Guides. The bronze frame was included in this exposure. Unfortunately, a color negative was not taken during this historic first color photographic event.
Today, the National Archives displays a high color resolution computer generated image of the Declaration of Independence as it appeared in the 1987 color transparency. A full size color print of the Declaration is not available to the American people from the National Archives.
The Website for viewing the Declaration of Independence is the National Archives On line Exhibit at http.//www.nara.gov/exhall/exhibits. html. It is listed under the Charters of Freedom-Declaration of Independence. The computer image on this Website is shown 20 1/2 inches by 14 1/2 inches as measured on a 9 1/2 inch by 8 inch computer monitor. The actual size of the Declaration of Independence is approximately 29 3/4 inches by 241/2 inches.
In 1989, the publisher of Historical Document Reproduction, Inc. acquired from the National Archives one of the 1987 color transparencies. Two major problems arose immediately. First, the laser graphic technology available in 1989 and in the following years could not use a color transparency to produce quality color separation negatives that are used to make the necessary printing plates. Secondly, the exact measurement size of the Declaration of Independence-engrossed original is not exactly known by the National Archives.
The National Archives gives the document measurements as 29 3/4 inches by 24 1/2 inches. The engrossed document is irregular in shape. The only way to assure a true size facsimile of the Declaration would be to have several signatures or handwritten lines carefully measured. The National Archives for preservation reasons would not provide these measurements in 1989 because of possible vibrations on the protective glass that protects the parchment document.
Both of these problems had to be overcome in order to produce the first color facsimile print of the Declaration that would be exact size and photographically generated directly from the original as it appeared in 1987 the Bicentennial Anniversary celebration year. The keys to moving forward on this printing project were patience and perseverance.
The first problem was solved by the advent of super computers and photographic computer technology, which is capable of reading directly from the 8 inch by 10 inch color transparency. In fact, the image quality is less distorted than if it were made from an enlarged color photograph. Secondly, in 1996, two important measurements were taken of the bronze frame holding the engrossed original. The exterior dimensions of the frame are 31 7/8 inches (height) by 26 1/4 inches (width).
These measurements were provided by the Educational and Museum Programs Division of the National Archives and were confirmed by the Chief of the Document Conservation Branch Preservation Policy and Services Division of the National Archives on November 28, 1997 and December 22, 1997. Additional measurements of the bronze frame had been requested by the publisher prior to these letters. Unfortunately, these additional measurements could not be provided until the next inspection possibly in the year 2000. Armed with these available measurements and the latest computer technology Historical Document Reproduction, Inc. employed the finest graphics company available. In addition, the best available large four color press was used in the final production of these historic prints. The first edition press run was for one thousand. Each print is serial numbered by hand with the initials of the publisher. The statement placed at the bottom of each print of the Declaration of Independence boldly proclaims:
THE FIRST COLOR FACSIMILE PRINT OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. PRODUCED FROM A COLOR PHOTOGRAPHIC TRANSPARENCY CREATED BY THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES DURING THE BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF 1987. FIRST EDITION OF ONE THOUSAND SERIAL NUMBER PRINTED ON THE TWO HUNDREDTH AND TWENTY SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF THE SIGNING OF THE ENGROSSED WAR DOCUMENT OF UNANIMOUS DECLARATION DATED JULY 4, 1776.