Lucky Man Earns $2.42 Million Profit After Finding A Precious Document In Painting He Bought For $4

Nov 03, 2023 by apost team

When a Philadelphia financial analyst went to a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania in 1989, he had no idea he would return with precious memorabilia. The man saw a dismal painting of a countryside and purchased the item for a mere $4 because he liked the frame and intended to use it for something else. 

After he bought it, the analyst saw a tear in the canvas and upon inspecting it, found a document folded behind the painting. The document turned out to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence (DOI). He appraised it following the suggestion of a friend who collected Civil War memorabilia and learned that the document was an original copy of the Dunlap broadsides

The Dunlap broadsides were printed by John Dunlap who owned a printing press and was tasked with hurriedly making copies for the 13 colonies of the nation following the United States' independence in 1776. Before the discovery of the document behind the painting, only 24 copies were accounted for of the 500 official copies from the first printing of the DOI.

Meanwhile, only two similar copies were owned privately. The analyst turned the document to Sotheby's for sale on June 4, 1991, after which it was sold for $2.42 million at an auction although it was initially estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million. 

The copy was purchased by Donald J Scheer. He told CNN at the time: 

"I think this is a living document. The words in this document are the words that knocked down the Berlin Wall."  

Per Snopes, David Redden, who was the auctioneer and a senior vice president at Sotheby's in Manhattan said: 

"This was a record for any printed Americana. It was far and away the highest price for historical Americana ever."

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The same DOI was put up for sale again by Sotheby's in June 2000. This time, the document went for $8.14 million and was purchased by Norman Lear in an online auction. Redden who auctioned off the first document told the BBC of the online sale: 

"Thinking back to 1991, it would have been considered science fiction that the next time this document sold it would have been electronically, digitally, without a human auctioneer."

Per CNET, Lear enlisted the help of David Hayden, chairman of Critical Path, an internet service company, to buy the DOI. Together, they outbid their competitor after posting 29 separate bids and won 45 minutes after the auction deadline. The bids began at $4 million and ended at $7.4 million. Sotheby's $740,000 fee brought the total amount to $8.14 million. 

Lear, a television producer and screenwriter who is renowned for his popular sitcoms told CBS News that the document would be taken around the country in "a theatrical event that will be unashamedly patriotic" and added that "Ninety-nine percent of all Americans will never see this document."

The document, which is now one of 25 known copies — another copy was discovered and auctioned off by Sotheby's — was the main attraction during the cross-country tour of the Declaration of Independence Road Trip by the Norman Lear Center. It lasted for three-and-a-half years. 

The Norman Lear Center is a research and public policy center that examines the influence of entertainment on commerce and society and is based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

Of the 25 known copies existing today, only four are held privately with the rest in museums and institutions. Meanwhile, in a 2018 interview, Lear revealed that he already sold the DOI he purchased in 2000.

Declaration of Independence (2000), (Chris Hondros/Newsmakers/Hulton Archive via Getty Images)

Have you seen a copy of the Declaration of Independence? Do you have a similar experience of finding a treasured item? Let us know — and be sure to pass this on to friends and family.

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