Lot 2078
  • 2078


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  • First Book Printing, in the Genuine principles of the Ancient Saxon. Philadelphia: 1776
"In Congress, July 4, 1776. A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled," pp. 41–46 in The Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution. Carefully collected from the best Authorities; with some Observations, on their peculiar fitness, for the United Colonies in general, and Pennsylvania in particular. By Demophilus. Philadelphia: Printed, and Sold, by Robert Bell, (July 8,) 1776 8vo in half-sheets (7 3/4 x 4 5/8 in.; 197 x 116 mm). With the scarce and important terminal ad leaf. Bound fourth in a contemporary Sammelband of six American Revolutionary pamphlets. Together 6 works in one volume. Contemporary American calf, spine in six compartments, plain endpapers, red-sprinkled edges, spine black-lettered with press-mark p J in second and third compartments, further press-mark written in rear pastedown “—B— | Etage … —E—”; some minor scuffing at edges, tiny chip to foot of spine, withal in superb, as-issued condition.


Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, 1755–1824 (press-mark of the library of the château de La Brède, the seat of Secondat de Montesquieu's family) — by descent in the family (Sotheby's, 19 June 2015, lot 99)


Evans 14734; Matyas, Checklist of Books, Pamphlets, and Periodicals, Printing the U.S. Declaration of Independence 76-01; Howes B900; Sabin 26964; Streeter 778. Not in Adams, American Independence

Catalogue Note

Probably the finest copy extant of the first book-form printing of the Declaration of Independence, preserved with other significant pamphlets of the American Revolution, including the third edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the anonymous pamphlet that in large measure inspired the Declaration. With distinguished provenance, being from the library of a French officer serving in the American Revolution. The Declaration was first printed by John Dunlap, the official printer to the Continental Congress, as a broadside on the evening of July 4 into the morning of July 5, 1776. The text next appeared in the July 6 issue of the Philadelphia newspaper The Pennsylvania Evening Post, and two days later it was printed in Dunlap’s own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Packet, or General Advertiser. An undated German-language broadside of the Declaration printed by Melchoir Steiner and Charles Cist was likely issued about this time as well.

July 8 is evidently the day that the patriot printer Robert Bell published his edition of the Declaration, appended to the pseudonymous Genuine Principles of the Ancient Saxon, or English Constitution, as evidenced by the terminal advertising leaf in the publication, which is datelined “Philadelphia, July 8, 1776.” On this final leaf, Bell announces his publication, “In a few days,” of John Cartwright’s anonymous American Independence the Interest and Glory of Great Britain, which had first appeared early in the year in a London edition. (A copy of Bell's edition of Cartwright’s work is bound in the present volume, and the title-page is a slight variant setting of the type for Bell's advertisement.) Advertisements for Genuine Principles  in the 9 July issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Post and the 10 July issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette state that the work was “just printed, published and now selling by Robert Bell.”  So Bell's printing is not simply the first book printing of the Declaration, it is one of the earliest printings overall—and one of the rarest.

Demophilus was probably the pen name of George Bryan, a radical Whig who helped to draft the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, although Howes tentatively attributes the work to Samuel Bryant. The Genuine Principles was intended to influence the delegates to Pennsylvania's constitutional convention; Demophilus noted, "A Convention being soon to sit in Philadelphia; I have thought it my duty to collect some sentiments from a certain very scarce book, entitled An Historical Essay on the English Constitution, and publish them … for the perusal of the gentlemen concerned in the arduous task of framing a constitution."

Bell must have had Genuine Principles on the press when Dunlap's broadside appeared. He added a gathering at the end to accommodate the Declaration and provided a brief but stirring introduction at the conclusion of Demophilus's text: "The events which have given birth to this mighty revolution; and will vindicate the provisions that shall be wisely made against our ever again relapsing into a state of bondage and misery, cannot be better set forth than in the following Declaration of American Independence." The Declaration did inspire Pennsylvania's constitutional convention, which convened on July 15 with Benjamin Franklin presiding.

It is appropriate that Robert Bell first printed the Declaration in book form; he was the first printer of Common Sense and an ardent patriot. Bell's "Additions" to Paine's works included "The Propriety of Independancy," which was signed by Demophilus.

This volume of American Revolutionary pamphlets is from the library of Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu, grandson of the philosopher and an aide-de-camp to the Comte de Rochambeau and the Marquis de Chastellux during the American Revolution. The younger Montesquieu served at Yorktown, was among the delegation sent to France to inform the King of the Franco-American victory, and was subsequently a member of the Society of the Cincinnati.

Very rare: the only two other copies have appeared at auction since the Streeter sale, the last of those being sold by us nearly thirty-five years ago, May 23, 1984, lot 36. Copies have been located in sixteen institutional collections: The Boston Athenaeum; The British Library; The John Carter Brown Library; University of Chicago, John Crerar Library; Harvard University; Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Huntington Library; Indiana University; Library Company of Philadelphia; Library of Congress; Massachusetts Historical Society; University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library; Missouri Historical Society; New York Public Library; New York State Library; and Yale University.

The other works in the volumes are [Thomas Paine and others.] Common Sense; with the Whole Appendix: The Address to the Quakers: Also, the Large Additions, and a Dialogue between the Ghost of General Montgomery, just arrived from the Elysian fields; and an American Delegate in a Wood, near Philadelphia: On the Grand Subject of American Independancy. (second title, a3:) Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America … Third edition. (third title, m1:) Large Additions to Common Sense. … II. The Propriety of Independancy, by Demophilus. … An Appendix to Common Sense. (fourth title, U1:) A Dialogue between the Ghost of General Montgomery, Just arrived from the Elysian Fields; and an American Delegate in a Wood near Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed, and Sold, by R. Bell, 1776. 8vo in half-sheets, general half-title, U3 with ads and Bell’s statement “Self-defence against unjust attacks”; natural paper flaw in lower blank margin of final leaf. Robert Bell’s “complete” edition of Common Sense, made up from pamphlets formerly sold independently. (Gimbel CS-9; Evans 14966; Adams, American Independence 222e)

[Rokeby, Matthew Robinson-Morris, 2nd baron.] Considerations on the Measures Carrying on with respect to the British Colonies in North America. Philadelphia: Reprinted and Sold by Benjamin Towne, 1774. 8vo in half-sheets, with blank H3, issue with catchword “principles” on G1 (no priority); title a little spotted, some light browning, tiny wormtrail at inner margin B1-E2 just touching one letter. (Evans 13587; Adams, American Independence 134i; Sabin 72151 note)

[John Cartwright.] American Independence the Interest and Glory of Great Britain; containing Arguments which prove, that not only in Taxation, but in Trade, Manufactures, and Government, the Colonies are entitled to an entire Independency on the British Legislature … Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Robert Bell, 1776.8vo in half-sheets, half-title, with terminal leaf Q4, “Character of the Work from the English Monthly Reviewer.” (Evans 14673; Adams, American Independence 105c; Sabin 11153)

Richard Price. Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. To which is added, An Appendix, containing, A State of the National Debt … London: Printed: New-York, Re-printed by S. Loudon, 1776. 12mo, many deckle edges preserved at lower margin; some light browning. (Evans 15033; Adams, American Independence 224v; Sabin 65452)

Joseph Tucker. The True Interest of Britain, set forth in Regard to the Colonies; and the only Means of Living in Peace and Harmony with them. … To which is Added by the Printer, A few more Words, on the Freedom of the Press in America. Philadelphia: Printer, and Sold, by Robert Bell, 1776. 8vo in half-sheets, terminal ad leaf, issue with biographical detail following Tucker’s name. (Evans 15119; Adams, American Independence 144b; Sabin 97366)