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U.Va. Library Receives Rare Declaration Of Independence Items From Collector Albert H. Small

January 30, 2002-- On July 4, 1776, Caesar Rodney, a delegate to the Continental Congress from Delaware, wrote to his brother Thomas describing a hurried trip to Philadelphia on horseback through "thunder and rain" in time to "give my voice in the matter of Independence." Rodney’s crucial vote made all 13 colonies unanimous in their decision to break free from Great Britain.

The historic letter, the only one written on that momentous day by a signer of the Declaration of Independence that refers specifically to his own role in the vote, is among 10 rare Declaration-related items recently given to the University of Virginia Library by Albert H. Small, a U.Va. alumnus and former Board of Visitors member.

The gift is the second by Small from his personal Declaration of Independence collection, the most comprehensive in the world about the document. Small has pledged the entire collection to the University, where items will eventually be on prominent display. Highlights of the new gift include:

  • A broadside from June 12, 1775, in which Thomas Gage, British commander in North America, declares martial law and warns the American rebels to renounce their cause or face retribution. In this, one of only four copies known to exist, Gage offers to pardon anyone who ceases their rebellious behavior, except for Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whose offenses were considered too serious for clemency.
  • An engraved Declaration of Independence printed by William J. Stone in 1823 under the authority of Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Stone, a noted engraver of the time, used a wet-ink process to create a copperplate of the original Declaration, thus producing an exact copy of the document and its signatures. By an act of Congress, two copies were given to the Marquis de Lafayette and one hung in his bedroom. Only 31 of the original 200 Stone engravings are known to exist today.
  • A manuscript subscription book belonging to Benjamin Owen Tyler in which he collected signatures from such notable figures as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Quincy Adams, John Marshall, and Henry Clay as orders for his elaborately engraved facsimile of the Declaration of Independence published in 1818.

"Albert Small’s gift significantly adds to our American history materials in Special Collections," said Michael Plunkett, director of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at U.Va.. "In addition to being historically valuable, these items also help to tell the full story behind the Declaration. They tell about the preparation, production, and printing of the Declaration, as well as about the individuals behind this important moment in American history."

In 2000, Small gave an important group of early printings of the Declaration from the various 13 colonies. The remainder of his collection includes similar historically important Declaration materials such as one of 25 known first-printings by John Dunlap of the Declaration of Independence, which, according to Dr. Joseph E. Fields, in research published in 1996, belonged to George Washington. Also in the collection are a complete set of autographed letters from all 56 signers, a majority dating from 1776, and various copies of John Trumbull’s famous painting depicting the signing.

"Albert Small has patiently and methodically amassed the most comprehensive Declaration of Independence collection possible today," said Chris Coover, senior specialist in manuscripts and Americana at Christie’s auction house in New York, who inventoried the collection. "His signers’ collection of letters is certainly the finest in private hands today and could not be duplicated."

Small, a real-estate developer in Bethesda, Md. and major donor to the University, said that he is giving his Declaration of Independence collection so that it can be open and accessible to all. "These items tell the story of the Declaration of Independence and of those brave and bold men who put their lives at risk for our country and future."

"Albert Small joins a distinguished roster of collectors such as Tracy W. McGregor, Clifton Waller Barrett, and Paul Mellon whose gifts have strengthened immeasurably the University’s collections," said Karin Wittenborg, University librarian.

The items in this recent gift will be on display, along with other highlights from Small’s collection, in the Declaration of Independence Room that will be part of the new Albert and

Shirley Small Special Collections Library soon to be under construction. Small also contributed funds for the new building.

The items from this recent gift are available now in Special Collections and are fully cataloged in VIRGO, the library’s online catalog located at

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library houses the University’s many outstanding collections of rare books and manuscripts. The primary focus of these collections is American history and literature–in particular, the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History and the Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature. Among the treasures to be found in Special Collections are many Thomas Jefferson papers and his architectural drawings of the University of Virginia; the Paul Mellon Collection of Americana; and the largest single collection of William Faulkner editions, manuscripts, and personal papers. To learn more about the resources found in Special Collections, visit the Web site or call (434) 924-3025.

Contact: Melissa Cox Norris, (434) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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