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UofL helps city’s rare ‘Declaration of Independence’ copy enter digital age

by UofL Today last modified Feb 15, 2012 05:20 PM

Bill Carner, Photographic Archives imaging manager, helped bring Louisville Metro’s rare copy of the “Declaration of Independence” into the digital age last week when he scanned the document for the city.

UofL helps city’s rare ‘Declaration of Independence’ copy enter digital age

Bill Carner focuses the camera using a computer monitor.

The city’s “Declaration” dates to 1823. It is one of 31 surviving exact copies of the “Declaration of Independence” that Congress authorized engraver William Stone to make when the body feared that the original was becoming illegible. Stone made about 200 copies, and although his were not the first copies of the document, they differed from earlier copies in that they contained the signatures and left off “commemorative” touches like portraits and flags.

Carner used a German camera and an American-made BetterLight scanning back for the job. The camera, fixed above the document, took a series of pictures that created an image which could be enlarged to 300 percent before becoming even slightly pixelated.

“I don’t get requests even close to this one very often,” Carner said.

One of the challenges with the task was that image would not lie flat because the city crew could not remove hanging brackets from the back of frame. So the University Archives and Records Center staff, where the scanning took place, used encyclopedias and other books to form a make-shift pedestal that solved the problem.

“It was interesting and fun to set up the BetterLight scanning camera and then scan a historic document,” Carner said. “I particularly enjoyed finding a low-tech solution (stacks of books) to the problem of getting the document on a level plane with the scanner…. They probably have a more expensive leveling system at the National Archives, but I thought our system of using the books was elegant in its simplicity.”

According to a press release dated Feb. 13, the city requested the scanning for two reasons. The high-definition image will help the city properly appraise the document so can insure it appropriately. It also will help experts evaluate what might need to be done to repair damage to the document without them having to travel to Louisville.

“Stone” copies are considered to be rare, unusual and considered to be valuable. The engraving process took about three years, and the copies went to those document signers who were still alive at the time, several education institutions and state governments.

Louisville received its copy in 1986 when the family of Louisville attorney William P. Mulloy gave a copy to Jefferson County. At that time, only 28 of the “Stone” copies were believed to have survived.

The city’s “Declaration” is on display for public viewing in Metro Hall. Find it by entering the front doors and looking on the right side of the rotunda.

UofL did not charge for the scanning.

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