Cobb County

Kennesaw State University working to preserve 19th century copy of Declaration of Independence

COBB COUNTY, Ga — In the Bentley Rare Book Museum on the campus of Kennesaw State University, Curator JoyEllen Williams has the keys to an especially rare artifact.

That rare piece is a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which dates back to 1843.

“When I first laid eyes on it when I first got here, I wasn’t familiar with the history of the copies,” Williams told Channel 2′s Berndt Petersen. “This is John Hancock’s very large signature. He was the first to sign it.”

Williams says at the turn of the 19th century, President John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State at the time, ordered hundreds of copies to be made because the original was already showing its age. Today you can barely read it.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

KSU obtained its copy 23 years ago, and Williams asked an expert of rare documents to take a look.

“She started to look more closely at it. She started to recognize that there may be some issues with this,” Williams said.

The paper is very thin and brittle, and whatever is behind it inside the frame is likely acidic. So the university is working to raise money to properly preserve this important piece of American history. JoyEllen said of the 750 or so official copies made, only around 250 have survived.

People don’t expect that in Kennesaw we have a 19th-century copy of the Declaration of Independence. It is incredibly important to fix this,” Williams said.


It will cost around $6,000 to preserve the document. The work will take many months. It is currently worth around $15,000, but Williams said after 9/11, official copies were fetching up to a million.

To learn more about the preservation project, click here:

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]