Skip to main content

Crystal Bridges to Exhibit First Printed Edition of the Declaration of Independence

This summer, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will present a temporary exhibition of rare early-American documents.  The exhibition, titled “Declaration: Birth of America,” will include one of only 25 known existing copies of the printed broadside version of the Declaration of Independence, among other documents from the American Revolution. The documents, which are on loan from a private collection, will be on view from June 30 through September 17, 2012. The exhibition is sponsored by Randy and Valorie Lawson / Lawco Energy Group, and Chip and Susan Chambers.

On the evening of July 4, 1776, the text of the newly penned Declaration of Independence was typeset in the Philadelphia printing shop of John Dunlap and 200 large-format “broadside” copies were printed. These were rapidly distributed throughout the colonies to inform them of their new independence. Though it is not the famous hand-written version of the Declaration, and bears no signatures, the Dunlap Broadside was, in fact, the first published Declaration of Independence to be distributed to the colonies. The “official” handwritten document, which is on permanent view in the National Archives in Washington DC, was probably not signed until August, 1776.

“The broadside was like the radio or internet of its time,” said David Houston, director of curatorial at Crystal Bridges. “It was the fastest, most technologically advanced method available of disseminating information during colonial times. Broadsides were sent to each of the colonies, and read aloud in public along the way for everyone to hear. It was the closest thing they had to mass communication.”

“This will be the first of a series of focus exhibitions at Crystal Bridges featuring historic American documents,” said Crystal Bridges Executive Director Don Bacigalupi. “As part of our mission to celebrate the American spirit, it is important that we occasionally display important documents that illustrate critical moments in our history. We are pleased to be able to work with private collectors to provide this opportunity for our guests to view genuine documents from our nation’s earliest history.”

In addition to the Declaration broadside, the exhibition will include two printed newspaper accounts from 1776, a hand-written letter from King George III to his generals, a printed edition of the Virginia Bill of Rights, an American broadside description of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the Franklin printing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities between England and the United States of America.

No special tickets are required, and there is no admission fee to view “Declaration: Birth of America.”  Space is limited in the exhibition area, and admission is first-come, first-served. There may be a waiting period for admittance. Crystal Bridges Members will enjoy a special preview of the exhibition from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, June 29. For information on becoming an Original Member of Crystal Bridges, visit

General admission to Crystal Bridges is sponsored by Walmart.  For more information about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, visit the museum’s website:

# # #

The mission of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is to welcome all to celebrate the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of landscape. We explore the unfolding story of America by actively collecting, exhibiting, interpreting, and preserving outstanding works that illuminate our heritage and artistic possibilities.

Opened to the public on 11-11-11, Crystal Bridges was founded in 2005 by Alice Walton, who chairs the Museum’s board of directors.