Cover image for The Declaration in Script and Print: A Visual History of America’s Founding Document By John Bidwell

The Declaration in Script and Print

A Visual History of America’s Founding Document

John Bidwell

Coming in July

232 pages
7" × 10"
67 b&w illustrations
2024

Penn State Series in the History of the Book

The Declaration in Script and Print

A Visual History of America’s Founding Document

John Bidwell

“I can’t think of a more essential book as we prepare to celebrate America’s 250th birthday. With erudition, literary panache, and a wealth of striking images, John Bidwell has breathed new life into an old and still precious document. Highly recommended.”

 

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Perhaps the single most important founding document of the United States of America, the Declaration of Independence became both a work of art and a mass-market commodity during the nineteenth century. In this book, graphic arts historian John Bidwell traces the fascinating history of Declaration prints and broadsides and reveals the American public’s changing attitudes toward this iconic text.

The new and improved intaglio, letterpress, and lithographic printing technologies of the nineteenth century led to increasingly elaborate reproductions of the Declaration. Some were touted as precious relics; others were aimed at the bottom of the market. Rival publishers claimed to have produced the definitive visualization of the document, attacking the character and patriotism of other firms even as they promoted their own artistic abilities and attention to detail. Meanwhile, painter John Trumbull attempted to sell subscriptions for an engraved version of his Declaration painting, and John Quincy Adams—then secretary of state—commissioned an official 1823 edition in response to the feuding facsimilists seeking government patronage. Bidwell unravels the intricate web of rivalries surrounding these competing publications.

Featuring a comprehensive checklist of nearly two hundred prints and broadsides drawn from various collections, this engrossing history highlights the proliferation and widespread influence of the Declaration of Independence on American popular culture. It will be equally esteemed by general readers interested in American history, print and autograph collectors, and art and book historians.

“I can’t think of a more essential book as we prepare to celebrate America’s 250th birthday. With erudition, literary panache, and a wealth of striking images, John Bidwell has breathed new life into an old and still precious document. Highly recommended.”
“Nineteenth-century Americans encountered the Declaration of Independence as a work of art in myriad facsimile engravings and lithographs. Through painstaking historical and bibliographical research, John Bidwell expertly traces the creation and evolution of these iconic images. Thanks to Bidwell, anyone interested in how the Declaration became an iconic document will now have to reckon with its visual image, not just its words.”

John Bidwell is Curator Emeritus at the Morgan Library & Museum. He is the author of Graphic Passion: Matisse and the Book Arts, also published by Penn State University Press.