The day I faked being an “ink expert” to see The Declaration of Independence

I spent the early months of 2013 in London, England doing research for my doctoral dissertation. The bulk of my time was at the National Archives in Kew plowing through documents and struggling with reading sixteenth and seventeenth century Secretary Hand. During my last week at the archives, I requested to see an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and was denied access.

The copy of The Declaration I wanted to see was a print made by John Dunlap on July 4, 1776. Dunlap printed 200 copies and delivered them to the Continental Congress on July 5th. Only 26 of the original copies survive.

I asked an employee at the archive for help. He had previously helped me when I had some questions about medieval peppercorn rents. Luckily for me, he had written a book about medieval land deeds and he gave me a crash course on medieval real estate records and how those records were used during the early modern era.

The employee “casually” mentioned that only experts with a very specific need to see The Declaration could have access. He suggestively asked if I was that expert with a specific need. I replied that I was, in fact, an ink expert and I needed to see the quality of the ink to learn more about the printing process. That lie was enough to get me in to see the document.

The Declaration was brought out in this folder:

Folder containing The Declaration of Independence

I opened the folder and there she was – and notice how John Hancock’s name is huge on the print version just like on the original handwritten version:

The Declaration of Independence

And since I am a xennial after all – tasteless selfies! I look foolish but it was hard to sneak selfies into a room where you are being watched by an employee and closed circuit television.

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