Found, Under $4 Flea-Market Art: A $1-Million Memento From 1776

<i> From Associated Press</i>

A man who paid $4 for an old painting found that it concealed a copy of the Declaration of Independence that was printed on July 4, 1776, and may be worth $1 million, an auction house disclosed Tuesday.

“Here was the most important single printed page in the world, in the most spectacularly beautiful condition,” said David Redden, vice president of Sotheby’s, who authenticated the document.

“It took one second to know it was right,” he added, “but what really astonished us was the condition--so fresh, so clean.”


The painting--an old, torn depiction of a country scene--was purchased two years ago at a flea market in Adamstown, Pa., by a Philadelphia financial analyst who liked the wooden frame, Redden said.

The owner has asked to remain anonymous.

When the owner removed the painting, the frame fell apart and he found a folded document between the canvas and wood backing that appeared to be an old copy of the Declaration of Independence. A friend who collects Civil War memorabilia advised him to have it appraised.

After the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration on July 4, 1776, it had a Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap, print copies that evening to carry the news of independence to the people.

Redden speculated that about 200 such copies were printed and distributed to government leaders, the Army and throughout the 13 Colonies.

The copy found behind the old painting is one of just 24 known to remain. It is printed in black ink on slightly yellowed rag paper 15 1/2-by-19 3/4 inches in size.

In January, 1990, another copy of the Declaration of Independence was sold for a record high price of $1.59 million. The newfound copy is to be offered for sale June 4 at Sotheby’s, which estimates its value at between $800,000 and $1.2 million.