A rare piece of founding American history has sold for $4,420,000 (£3,210,000) after being discovered in the attic of a Scottish ancestral home by fine art auctioneers.
Lyon & Turnbull made the discovery in a set of documents and passed the find onto its sister auction house, Freeman’s, in America.
A signer’s copy of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, one of only six known still to be in private hands, was uncovered by the Edinburgh-headquartered auction house after one of its specialists was asked to look at some books and papers.
The price achieved is the second highest ever paid at auction for any copy of the Declaration of Independence, the highest for an American document printed in the 19th century and quadruples the world auction record for a William J. Stone printing of the Declaration, previously set in New York in 2019.
The historic document, which has been unaccounted for nearly 180 years, is one of two copies presented to Founding Father Charles Carroll of Carrollton in 1824, a wealthy American and the first United States Senator from the state of Maryland.
Mr Carroll gave both of his copies to his grandson-in-law, John MacTavish (1787-1852), a Scottish-Canadian diplomat and businessman who served as British Consul to Maryland and married Mr Carroll’s granddaughter, Emily Caton. One of the copies was given to Maryland Historical Society by Mr MacTavish; he then copied Mr Carroll’s signature and inscription from that copy onto this second copy, adding a note of his own to explain.
Mr Carroll was an early advocate for independence of the Thirteen American Colonies from Great Britain and was to become the last survivor of the 56 signatories, dying in 1832 aged 96. Together the Colonies formed the United States of America.
Lyon & Turnbull’s Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps Specialist, Cathy Marsden, who made the discovery said: “I was looking through a pile of papers which had been brought down from the attic, amongst which was a folded up, vellum, document. Opening it up, I could see was a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
When I got back to the office and started doing some research I became really excited as its significance became clearer. After extensive research we confirmed it was indeed one of the 201 copies made by William Stone, of which only 48 of them are known to still exist. Being able to identify to whom the copy belonged made it even more exciting and rare.”
Freeman’s and Lyon & Turnbull formed a transatlantic link more than 20 years ago with a special focus on single-owner collections, the two companies have successfully staged a wide range of joint international projects over the last two decades including specialist auctions in Hong Kong and London as well as exhibitions and events on both sides of the Atlantic.
Paul Roberts, vice chairman of Lyon & Turnbull and President of Freeman’s in Philadelphia, said: “This was a great effort from both teams on both sides of the Atlantic a very proud moment for me personally – an international team working in perfect harmony to achieve a wonderful result on behalf of an extremely appreciative and supportive client.
When Cathy Marsden first showed me this document on Christmas Eve I knew it was interesting but today’s outcome – achieving $4,420,000 (£3,210,000) on the eve of Independence Day weekend nearly 4000 miles away – is extraordinary.
I am delighted that our international partnership is now regularly bringing results in the millions thanks to the combined work of our specialist teams.”
The vendors, who remain anonymous, wish to thank Lyon & Turnbull and Freeman’s for finding the document and arranging such a successful outcome.