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Dear Mr. Robertson,
Former National Archives conservators MaryLynn Ritzenthaler and Catherine Nicholson have worked extensively with the Declaration of Independence, having supervised its removal, study, treatment, and re-encasement for its new display housing in the early 2000s. Here is their article about the Declaration, from the Fall 2016 issue of Prologue:
We reached out to them for their perspectives on the matter of the Anastatic process.
“Based on our piecing together of images and tracing the condition of the Declaration, I don’t think it’s correct that the document was subjected to the anastatic copy process. This was invented in the 1840s, after the creation of the Stone engraving. One could equally think that the Anastatic Copy was derived from a Stone engraving.
Key evidence on the state of the document is found in the 1903 Handy photo of the Declaration, commissioned by the Dept. of State. This photo does not show tide lines or the hand print...both of which appear in later photos taken in 1940 and 1942. Unfortunately, there is a gap in documentation (so far!): what happened between 1903 and 1940 that resulted in the damage? Lots of speculation, but no definite answers.”
“Since the 1990s Mr Lingenfelter has promulgated his theory that the original parchment of the Declaration was subjected to the anastatic process. No clear historic record of using such a process with the original parchment has come down to us. As Mary Lynn suggested, I also have thought that a print from the Stone copperplate was probably used to make existing anastatic copies. The anastatic copy process was relatively expensive and it required soaking the original in dilute nitric acid and then applying it to a metal plate to create a metal printing plate. Soaking parchment of any kind, either the 1776 original or a Stone engraving, in the aqueous solution required to make an anastatic plate would have caused the parchment to shrink and distort and become completely unusable and unstable.
In 1823 William Stone engraved the copperplate used to print 200 engravings of the Declaration on parchment, but there was a later paper printing of the same copperplate in the 1830s inserted into Peter Force's American Archives 4th series volume 1 of 1848, an actual size engraving printed on a thin beaten transparent paper. These Force prints would have been much more available, less expensive and easier to handle in the anastatic nitric acid bath. The original parchment of the Declaration meanwhile went on long term display at the Patent Office in 1841 and remained there until the Centennial year of 1876 when it traveled to Philadelphia.
Karie Diethorn, chief curator at the Independence National Historical Park, confirmed that the historic site has an anastatic copy of the Declaration. She noted that a July 7, 1846 Public Ledger article stated that U.S. Senators Houston and Rusk visited and saw an anastatic copy of the Declaration in the room with the Liberty Bell. Mr Lingenfelter believes that his anastatic copy of the Declaration was made about 1846. He believes that the Philadelphia printer John Jay Smith who brought the anastatic process to the U.S. could have made an anastatic plate of the Declaration in 1846 in Washington. But no contemporary accounts have emerged describing that such a process of copying the Declaration was undertaken in Washington. Philadelphia was the location of the Anastatic Printing Office at 144 Chestnut Street, and several books containing anastatic reproductions published by them are in the collection of the Library Company in Philadelphia. The anastatic process was a novel technique for a few years and extolled by Edgar Allen Poe in the Broadway Journal of April 12, 1845, " it is the province of Anastatic printing to revolutionize the world". This historical information appears an article published by Lita Solis-Cohen in the Maine Antique Digest of September 2008.
The two known surviving anastatic copies of the Declaration have an identifier at the bottom left corner in all caps: "ANASTATIC FAC-SIMILE" below the signature “Geo Walton.”
Lingenfelter's idea that a parchment document could be immersed in water or dilute nitric acid and used for the process is simply inconceivable. Parchment is made by stretching a wet animal skin on a frame and drying it under tension. Once immersed in water, it releases the tension and shrinks greatly. So it had to be one of the Force printings on paper that was used to make the anastatic plate. A Force print is just a second state of the Stone engraving, so the anastatic copy does represent a reproduction of a Stone engraving. It would be good to acknowledge Lita Solis-Cohen for her research on the history of the anastatic process and the contemporary sources about it.”
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