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EXCEPTIONAL 1821 PRINTING OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE ON CLOTH, PRODUCED AND DISTRIBUTED BY ROBERT & COLLIN GILLESPIE

Web ID: ker-169
Available: In Stock
Frame Size (H x L): 44" x 39"
Flag Size (H x L): 32" x 27.5"
 
Description:
Printed in mulberry ink on cotton, this kerchief-style broadside is one of the earliest known renditions of the Declaration of Independence rendered on cloth. The text appears within a wreath of oak leaves, interspersed with circular medallions that contain the seals of the thirteen colonies. This is crowned by whimsical portraits of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. An American eagle flies above celebratory flags and banners over the Presidents’ heads, with the names “Hamilton” and “Putnam” in banners to the left and right.

Revolutionary scenes fill the bottom corners. One depicts “The Patriotic Bostonians discharging the British Ships in Boston Harbour,” and the other illustrates “General Burgoyne’s Surrender to General Gates at Saratoga.” The entire piece is surrounded by a militaristic border of cannon, cannon balls, anchors, flowers, and gadrooning (rope-like decoration).

Examples of this rare textile exist with two other border styles. One of these has grape vines, beehives, flags and scrolls. Another has six-pointed stars amid braided ropes or chains, with anchors in the corners. Slight variations of this sort is common across pre-Civil War political flags and kerchiefs, which often exist in several different forms that are nearly but not precisely identical. Printers and engravers seem to have preferred the production of designs with subtle differences.

Three color variations are also known. In addition to mulberry, blue and black (or sepia) versions exist. In other pre-1830 American political kerchiefs and yard goods (textiles sold by the yard), these three color combinations are likewise found.

Two examples of this style of kerchief are recorded in the landmark book “Threads of History: Americana Recorded on Cloth, 1775 to the Present” by Herbert Ridgeway Collins (1979, Smithsonian Press). Each is in a different color combination. Item 23 (p. 57), black and white, resides at the Smithsonian’s own Cooper-Hewitt museum, while item 58 (p. 72), blue and white, is part of the collection at Winterthur. The Cooper-Hewitt example is listed simply as “19th century” and noted as “English or American”, while the Winterthur example is labeled with a date of 1820-1825 and labeled as “English”.

It is of great interest to note that period documentation of manufacture of these kerchiefs was recently discovered. The textiles were produced for the American market by Robert & Collin Gillespie in Anderston (near Glascow), Scotland. In 1821, an announcement was published in newspapers in major cities up and down the east coast. It read:

"We have received (says a New-York paper) from Collin Gillespie, Esq. of Glasgow, formerly of this city, two Handkerchiefs, the finest specimens of printing on cambric ever produced. The design is a facsimile of Binn’s superb print of the declaration of Independence, and contains the signatures of the illustrious signers with great exactness. In one corner is a representation of the “patriotic Bostonians discharging the British ships in Boston harbor,” of their cargoes of tea; and in the other the surrender of Burgoyne to Gates at Saratoga. In a branch of laurel, on each side, is inscribed the name of Hamilton and Putnam, and the likenesses of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. The only deviation from the print, is the omission of the portrait of John Hancock."*

John Binns began taking subscriptions to fund a facsimile of the original Declaration of Independence in 1816, but failed to produce the work until April of 1819. In the meantime, rival printer, Benjamin Owen Tyler, became the first to publish an engraved rendition in 1818. These appeared on parchment, velum, linen and silk, in a simple, unembellished style without pictorial imagery. Today approximately four of Tyler's engravings are estimated to survive that are printed on cloth.

  While Binns was carefully developing his design, its concept is said to have been stolen by William Woodruff, who formerly worked for an employee of Binns' by the name of George Murray. Murray was responsible for the Arms of the United States and the 13 state seals on the Binns version. Woodruff produced a very similar printing with minor changes, including calligraphic signatures and the replacement of John Hancock's portrait with one of John Adams. He did so at cheaper cost and released his version two months before Binns, in February of 1819.

Collin Gillespie was a textile manufacturer and merchant who emigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1793 and became a citizen in 1798. He traveled back and forth between his home countries as the head of the Collin Gillespie & Company merchant faction. His brother, Robert Gillespie took control of the cotton spinning and textile printing factories in 1808 or 1809. It is likely that Collin brought both the Binns and Woodruff copies to his brother to reproduce on cloth. Gillespie adapted Binns’ signatures and Woodruff’s portraits, then expounded on both to create a more elaborate representation. Patriotic sentiments for his adopted country, and/or an understanding of its populace, probably influenced the illustrations in the bottom corners. The kerchief's large scale and exceptional graphics provide significant visual impact.

The first identical copies of the Declaration of Independence were not made until 1823. With the fifty-year anniversary of the document at hand, fear of the degradation of the original caused John Quincy Adams to seek out the services of William J. Stone of Washington, D.C., who soaked the original in order to make a copperplate engraving. Stone then printed a copy on rice paper for each state and each surviving signer. It was not copied again until 1843, when the Stone plate was allowed to be used by Peter Force for another printing that was inserted in a book.

The large size of this particular style of kerchief and its exceptional graphic qualities lend significant measure to its visual impact. When combined with such an early date, as well as the distinction of having been one of the earliest printings of our nation’s most important document, the result is an extraordinary stand-out among America’s first known political textiles.

* "Hankerchiefs", The Farmers' Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire, vol. 19, iss. 35, May 19th, 1821), p. 3.

Mounting: The textile has been hand-stitched to 100% cotton twill, black in color, which was washed to reduce excess dye. An acid-free agent was added to the wash to further set the dye and the fabric was heat-treated for the same purpose. Fabric of similar coloration was placed behind the textile during the mounting process, both to mask losses and to offer a further barrier between it and the black background. The mount was placed in a black-painted, hand-gilded and distressed Italian molding. The glazing is U.V. protective acrylic.
   
Collector Level: Flags for the truest Patriots. My best offerings
Flag Type:
Star Count:
Earliest Date of Origin: 1821
Latest Date of Origin: 1821
State/Affiliation:
War Association: 1777-1860 Pre-Civil War
Price: Please call (717) 676-0545 or (717) 502-1281
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