|Full image and detail of The New-England Chronicle, |
vol. VIII number 413, published July 18, 1776.
The first official printing of the Declaration of Independence was a broadside made by John Dunlap in Philadelphia on the night of July 4, 1776. Copies of that broadside were then distributed to the Committees of Safety in the other colonies, and the text from Dunlap’s printing was used by printers throughout the colonies to set their own versions in type. The copies that were printed by Gill, Powars, and Willis are significant because they mark the first time that the Declaration of Independence appeared in type in a Boston newspaper. If you look closely, you’ll see that in many instances it looks like the letter “f” appears in the text where an “s” should be. Powars and Willis didn’t pepper their version with typos; what looks like an “f” is actually known as a “long s.” This form of the lowercase s is used when it appears in the beginning or middle of a word, and as the first s in a word that includes a double s. The “long s” was used in the majority of books published in English during the 17th and 18th centuries, but most printers stopped using it by the early 1800s. Since the newspaper and broadside versions were set in type by many different people throughout the colonies, each version differs slightly in terms of punctuation, capitalization, and even some human error. It was not as easy to make an exact copy in the 1700s as it is today!
As the Preservation Librarian, I couldn’t end this post without a note on the newspaper’s condition. I spend a fair amount of time working with yellowed paper from the 1900s that is extremely brittle, and I’m always struck by how much better preserved paper is from the 1700s. The reason is a difference in paper quality. Paper in the 1700s was sometimes referred to as “rag paper” and it contained a higher content of cotton, which resulted in a strong and durable paper fiber. By the 1900s, paper was more commonly made with wood pulp, which is more acidic and would degrade faster. This is part of the reason why this newspaper from 1776 is in good condition, but the newspaper you might have tried to save when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 is likely starting to deteriorate!
By Elizabeth Roscio