BANGOR, Maine — An original copy of the Declaration of Independence printed by John Dunlap on the evening of July 4, 1776, will be on display Saturday, May 7, at the Bangor Public Library.
The copy is one of only 26 original Dunlap Broadsides known to still be in existence and the only one that is privately owned. The document’s free public viewing is part of a 10-year national tour.
“This is one of about 200 copies originally produced by 29-year-old Irish immigrant John Dunlap,” said Barbara McDade, director of Bangor Public Library. “We’re thrilled to be chosen as the only place in Maine to display it during this tour.”
Maine is one of four remaining states yet to host the copy, bought at auction in 2001 for $8.14 million by pioneering television producer Norman Lear, who created such TV shows as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.”
“Two weeks ago I got a telephone call from Norman Lear’s office to offer us a chance to have this rare historical document on display,” said Norm Minsky, president of the Bangor Public Library board of trustees. “It’s making one stop in each of the 50 states, so we jumped at the chance.”
The document was folded up and tucked inside the lining of a framed painting for untold years before being bought for $4 at a flea market and discovered when the unwitting buyer was inspecting a tear in the lining.
The copy will be on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the stairwell gallery. It will be accompanied by a video and several of the library’s own historical items such as a scrapbook containing a reprinted newspaper copy of the Declaration of Independence, a copy of the Treason Act, hymnals, and other items salvaged from the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition. The library will also host a gala reception from 7 to 9 p.m. May 6.
“This is a great opportunity for the Bangor Public Library because we do have a lot of historic documents you might not realize, many of which we don’t put on public display, and this gives us a chance to showcase them and the library itself,” said McDade.
The document will have its own security detail as well as extra security provided by the Bangor Police Department, and viewers will be able to take video and still photos but will not be allowed to use flash.
The broadsides were created after the Continental Congress adopted Thomas Jefferson’s text of the Declaration of Independence and sent it to the shop of Congress’ official printer, John Dunlap. One copy was officially entered into the Congressional Journal and the others were distributed throughout the colonies to be read aloud.
The term broadside refers to a type of printing that is similar to a contemporary poster and much like a full-sized modern newspaper page. The average size of the Dunlap Broadside is approximately 20 inches high and 16 inches wide.
The Maine Historical Society in Portland plays permanent host to one of the 26 Dunlap Broadsides.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there are 25 original copies of the Declaration. There are 26.