|Printed on white cotton in black or sepia ink, this rare kerchief-style broadside is the earliest known printed representation of the Declaration of Independence rendered on cloth. In fact, with the exception of newspaper printings, it represents the first illustration of the text that was executed after the initial printing in 1776.
Examples of the textile are recorded twice in �Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present� by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (1979, Smithsonian Press), who served as the Smithsonian�s curator of Political History. Each is in a different color combination. Item 23 (p. 57), black and white, resides at the Smithsonian�s own Cooper-Hewitt museum, while item 58 (p. 72), blue and white, is part of the collection at Winterthur. The Cooper-Hewitt example is listed simply as �19th century� and noted as �English or American�, while the Winterthur example is labeled with a date of 1820-1825 and labeled as �English�. Collins is thought to have simply applied the date of the hosting institution or collector, relying on their word, possibly to avoid professional conflict. So the date remains open to examination.
The Collins text does not make note of the 3rd known color variation, which is mulberry and white, which thus-far remains undocumented. In other pre-1830 American kerchiefs and like textiles, these three color combinations are likewise found. One good example is the pair of diminutive (approx. 12 in square) George Washington kerchiefs manufactured by John Hewson of Germantown Print Works, Germantown, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) in 1806, which are documented in �Threads of History� as items 38 and 39 (p. 63). These come in the same three colors.
The medallion mage of Washington, with his folk-style features, flanked by cornucopia, trumpets and flags, and crowned by a large eagle, can be seen in very similar format on silk kerchiefs that are dated by Collins as 1800. One of these is pictured as item 22 in �Threads of History� (p.57), with placement immediately before the black and white Cooper-Hewitt Declaration (item 23). Items in the Collins text are placed in order by date.
Another silk example with the same medallion exists in a private collection, but this has a border of Rev. War gunships. Because of French involvement in American Naval battles and because the French were so active in the manufacture of silk textiles, it is safe to suggest that they might be of French origin. The three color varieties of the Declaration textile are so close to those made in Germantown, that they also suggest the possibility of American production.
It is interesting to note that the grape vine, beehive, flag & scroll border seen here differentiates this textile from the two pictured in Collins. Both of the Collins examples have a border comprised of floral medallions, cannon balls, cannons, and anchors. I know of others to exist that share this same border. Only one other that I know of, printed in mulberry, exists in the beehive variation. These slight variations may seem odd to the casual observer, but the pre-1850 political textiles, flags kerchiefs, and the like, often exist in several different forms that are nearly but not precisely identical. Printers and engravers seem to have preferred the production of designs with subtle differences.
The long-faced, cartoonish images of Jefferson, Washington, and Adams suggest a dateline closer to 1800 for two reasons. The first is simply because Jefferson was elected in 1800 and served until 1809. It stands to reason that if it were printed in a later period that it might include Madison, Monroe, and any other presidents that followed Jefferson. The second is because the imagery is more consistent with crude, early depictions of the nation�s first three presidents. As the Federal Period advanced toward 1820, renditions of the men tended to become more refined, such as those that appear in the medallion images on the first non-newspaper printings of the Declaration of Independence on paper, which were done in 1819 by William Woodruff (then copied by many others with a variety of alterations and modifications).
It is interesting to note that the first identical copies of the Declaration were not done until 1823, when fear of the degradation of the original caused John Quincy Adams to seek out the services of William J. Stone of Washington, D.C., who soaked the original document in order to make a copperplate engraving, then printed a copy on rice paper for each state and each surviving signer. It was not copied again until 1843, when the Stone plate was allowed to be used by Peter Force for another printing that was inserted in a book.
The 1819 Woodruff printing, however, looked very much like the kerchief, but less busy and with more realistic qualities. For this reason it is possible that the design on the cotton kerchiefs in question might therefore have been copied by Woodruff. Each displays the same array of state crests, within circular medallions, set along an oval wreath of stars, oak leaves and acorns. Yet the Woodruff image lacks the decorative borders seen on the two varieties of this textile. It also lacks the illustration of the Boston Tea Party in the bottom left corner, with the accompanying text: �The Patriotic Bostonians discharging the British Ships in Boston Harbor�, as well as the one in the lower right, which shows military figures above the following caption: �Genl. Burgoyne Surrenders to Genl. Gates at Saratoga�. It seems unlikely that a British-manufactured kerchief would illustrate all of these things, which tends to support the idea of French manufacture. Another distinct difference between the Woodruff copy and this kerchief are the signatures, which are reproduced accurately on the kerchief but done in a uniform hand on the Woodruff version, with the exception of the signature of John Hancock, which is accurate on both.
The large size of the kerchief and its exceptional graphic qualities lend significant measure to its visual impact. When combined with such an early date, as well as the distinction of having been one of the very first printings of our nation�s most important document, the result is a simply extraordinary example among America�s first known political textiles.
Mounting: This is a pressure mount between U.V. protective acrylic and 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the textile during the mounting process, both to mask losses and to offer a further barrier between it and the black background. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. |
Jeff R. Bridgman American Antiques, llc
||Phone: (717) 502-1281
||19th Century (1801-1900)|
||The colors are particularly saturated and strong, which is great to see on an item with such an early date. There is some bleeding throughout. There is some breakdown along the perimeter, where the textile was glued to board by a previous owner. We removed it. To minimize further deterioration, a small amount of paper was left on the reverse. There are very minor losses throughout, accompanied by a lateral tear about 5" up from the bottom edge, running about 8" in from the right border. The great rarity of the textile warrants almost any condition.|
||Frame: 43" x 39" Kerchief: 32.5" x 27.75"
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