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National Archives Copperplate Engraving of Declaration of Independence Off Display for Conservation Treatment In Advance of 200th Anniversary in 2023
Press Release · Friday, December 9, 2022

Washington, DC

To highlight its 200th anniversary in 2023, the William J. Stone copperplate engraving of the Declaration of Independence (1823) has been removed from display in the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, for a special conservation project made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation. 

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William J. Stone copperplate engraving, June 1823.

The extensive project will involve conservation assessment and treatment, enhanced imaging, scientific analysis, examination by an expert engraver and printmaker studying William Stone’s engraving techniques, and much more. Once the project is completed in 2023, the National Archives will return the Stone copperplate to public display and will release information on the project’s findings and an accompanying film.

Temporarily replacing the engraving in the permanent Public Vaults Exhibit of the museum is an “alto” plate—a mirror image of the Stone engraving—produced in the 1890s by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from the original Stone copperplate. This “alto” plate with the words of the Declaration in raised relief was not intended for print-making but to produce new printing plates as older ones wore out.

About the William J. Stone copperplate engraving
On display in the National Archives Museum for nearly 20 years, the image familiar to most Americans is the engraving of the Declaration printed by William J. Stone in 1823. Stone’s engraving is the image most illustrated in history books, displayed in schools and libraries, sold as souvenirs and has been reproduced countless times.

Stone was commissioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1820 to make an exact-size facsimile of the entire Declaration, signatures as well as text. By June 5, 1823, almost exactly 47 years after Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration, it was reported “that Mr. William J. Stone, after a labor of three years, completed a facsimile of the original of the Declaration of Independence, now in the archives of the government; that it is executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity; and that the Department of State has become the purchaser of the plate.”

Learn more about the Stone Engraving: Icon of the Declaration online.

The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent federal agency that preserves and shares with the public records that trace the story of our nation, government, and the American people. From the Declaration of Independence to accounts of ordinary Americans, the holdings of the National Archives directly touch the lives of millions of people. The National Archives carries out its mission through a nationwide network of archives, records centers, and Presidential Libraries, and online at Archives.gov.

The National Archives Museum, created by the National Archives in partnership with the the National Archives Foundation, is located in the National Archives’ Washington, DC building. Featured exhibits include the permanent display of our nation’s founding documents (Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights), the David M. Rubenstein Gallery with the Records of Rights permanent exhibition, the award-winning Public Vaults permanent gallery, the William G. McGowan Theater, the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery for special exhibits, the Boeing Learning Center, the Digital Vaults online exhibit, and the DocsTeach website. These components make the rich resources of the National Archives accessible to Americans nationwide.

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For press information contact the National Archives Public and Media Communications Staff via email at public.affairs@nara.gov.

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This page was last reviewed on December 12, 2022.
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