Originally created 01/12/00

Historic document to be auctioned online



NEW YORK -- A 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence, in near mint condition, will meet the 21st century when it goes on sale on the Internet for an estimated $4 million to $6 million.

The rare document, being sold by an Atlanta investment firm, will be offered on Sotheby's new auction Web site, Sothebys.com, in late spring, the auction house announced Tuesday in a full-page ad in The New York Times.

The copy went on display Tuesday on the Web site and at Sotheby's New York gallery. It is one of 25 known to survive and one of four in private hands, the auction house said. The remaining copies are in museums or public institutions.

Sotheby's said the copy may be the last one to come up for sale because the other owners plan to donate theirs to museums. It's expected to fetch between $4 million and $6 million, which would be a record for a historic document sold online, Sotheby's said.

The same copy was sold by Sotheby's at a live auction in 1991 for a then-record $2.4 million to Visual Equities of Atlanta, the fine art investment firm selling it now. It failed to sell at auction in 1993, but Sotheby's senior vice president, David Redden, has said prices for historic documents have since shot up.

An amateur collector discovered the copy in 1989 hidden behind a torn painting, which he bought solely for its frame for $4 at a flea market in Adamstown, Pa.

Hundreds of copies of the Declaration of Independence were printed in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. One was officially entered into the Congressional Journal and the were rest sent to the 13 colonies proclaiming their independence from Great Britain. They're known as "Dunlap's broadsides" for printer John Dunlap.

Redden, who authenticated the copy Sotheby's will offer online, said its condition was almost as good as the day it came off Dunlap's printer.

"It took one second to know it was right," Redden recalled. "Here was the most important single printed page in the world in the most spectacularly beautiful condition."

Last month, another copy of the Declaration of Independence was pulled off Christie's auction block after the state of Rhode Island said it shouldn't be sold because of its historical value. That copy was one of Rhode Island's seven surviving official copies of the Declaration. Christie's withdrew it on Dec. 11, just before the sale, at the urging of Rhode Island Secretary of State James R. Langevin.