This is a genuine parchment facsimile of the Declaration of Independence. Genuine parchment (or vellum) is made from the skin of animals such as sheep, goats, cows, and even deer. The original declaration may have been written on deerskin but more likely it is calfskin. Sheep and goatskins are not large enough. There’s a good chance that the parchment for the original Declaration was made in England. The words of the Declaration are mostly from the hand of Thomas Jefferson but the final draft was probably engrossed by a member of the Continental Congress named Timothy Matlack.
THE ORIGINAL DECLARATION
The original Declaration is in poor condition because it hasn’t always been handled with care. Abuses include lengthy exposure to direct sunlight, variations in humidity, folding, rolling, and use of transparent tape, mounting glue and paste. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that action was taken to preserve the already faded document.
Monticello is offering the only full-size, parchment facsimiles of the Declaration that are known to have been created since 1823. Our full size parchment Declaration of Independence uses calfskin, creating a thicker parchment than sheepskin, and it is printed on a printing press.
EARLIER REPRODUCTIONS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE
The Declaration has been reproduced throughout its history.
• The Dunlap Broadsides: These are the earliest reproductions and only 25 are known to still exist.
• Decorated and ornamented copies including the Tyler reproductions (1818) and the Binns reproductions (1819)
• Facsimiles that have been reduced in size and printed on crinkly-brown paper are often found in museum shops. These are the most common types of facsimiles and have led many to believe that the original Declaration is much smaller than its actual size.
• Facsimiles that are full-size reproductions that are printed on paper. Paper facsimiles include those printed in 1824, 1848, 1895 and 1976 using a copperplate known as the Stone plate because the engraver was William Stone.
• Facsimiles that are full-size reproductions printed on actual calfskin parchment. Until now, only 201 parchment facsimiles are known to have been created. These facsimiles were taken from the Stone plate in 1823, and only 31 are known to still exist. Most of these are the property of the government or institutions such as the Henry Ford Museum and Harvard.
The facsimile being sold by The Monticello Museum Shop is not the exact size of the original. The sheet itself is larger than the original in order to accommodate framing. Also, there is strong evidence that the original Declaration has been trimmed in order to remove torn and dirty edges. Also, expansion and contraction of parchment makes it nearly impossible to perfectly match the original. Before its encasement, even the original Declaration varied in size depending upon the relative humidity of its surroundings.
There are no official measurements of the text body of the original Declaration so it is almost impossible to create what would be an “exact” facsimile by modern digital standards. The Monticello Museum Shop facsimile is taken from a government certified “exact facsimile.” However, the body of text in older facsimiles produced from the same plate can vary by as much as an inch when measured laterally.
There is no surviving description of the color of the original parchment. It is highly likely that it was a very light cream — almost a white color — with little variation in shade from one end to the other. Over time, the original parchment began to change color as it was exposed to the sun, dirt, and oils from human hands.
Parchment was used for the original because of its archival qualities. Even today there are parchments still in existence dating back to Roman times. Most of the important government documents were recorded on parchment including the Constitution. Even today, The British Parliament keeps a copy of every act on parchment.
Parchment is also known as vellum. Unlike the “vellum” sold in craft stores, true vellum is made from the skins of animals.
For printing, a one-inch thick, 20 lb block of magnesium zinc compound is etched so that the text is exposed. The facsimiles are printed one by one on a Counterpoint letterpress that was once used as a proofing press for Acts of Parliament.