Many of the “lost treasure” stories are much like what people believe about the Titanic. On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the case with the strongest favorable evidence, they rank somewhere around a 2 or 3. But people convince themselves that they are a 10. If someone with some expertise, training, or experience in the field tries to help them they do not want to hear it. And their excuses for why the other person is wrong are even sillier than their own reason for believing.
But today I am going to tell you about one treasure hunt where the treasure is real. Just like in any treasure hunt where the treasure is real, there are no maps where “X” marks the spot. No cryptic riddles left in the spine of a dusty old book in the storage of a library or archive, and no deathbed confessions about where the treasure is hidden. Originally, there were 200. In 1949, there were only 14 of these gems known to exist. Since then an additional 12 have been found, with the last one found in 2009. But I get ahead of myself.
John was a typical printer in his time. He lived and worked in Philadelphia. He was a twenty-nine year old Irish immigrant. It was a hot summer day, a Thursday to be exact. He would be closing up his shop and heading home soon. Until two men came in with a rush job they needed printed that very day. It was a big order, about 200 copies, but he set to work. His printing press used lead letters that had to be set up individually and inked. Then the paper would be set in the press. It was a screw type press that had to be hand operated to transfer the ink to the paper one sheet at a time. It took a while to set the typeset. Then the two customers stayed to inspect the prints as they came off, which led to a few minor changes. Making the changes slowed him down. But they accepted and paid for the ones before the changes they would use them too, so that was good. At least he was paid for all the prints.
When John was finished with the order, the customers rushed from the printing office with the announcements. These copies were to be sent out immediately all over the country, from Georgia in the south to New Hampshire in the north. It is this flyer, this announcement, this broadside that is the treasure. If you happen to be lucky enough to come across one of these broadsides printed by John Dunlap it would be worth several million dollars. These Dunlap broadsides were the first copies on the Declaration of Independence, printed on Thursday July 4, 1776. One easy way to tell if you have a Dunlap broadside or a Goddard broadside (the second official printing printed six months later, 9 copies known to be in existence) is the Dunlap does not list the names of the signers – they had not signed it yet because it had only just been approved. The Goddard broadside lists the names of all the signers except Thomas McKean, who in January 1777 had not had an opportunity to sign it yet.
Of the 200 hundred copies, 26 are known to exist. Many of course have been destroyed over the years, but there is no doubt that of the remaining 174 copies a few are still in existence just waiting to be found. Of the 12 found since 1949 one was found with some papers of Thomas Jefferson. One was found on the back of a framed picture and purchase at a junk shop for $4. One was found being used to wrap other documents to protect them, and one was found in the National Archives of the United Kingdom. I can’t tell you where to look, but I can tell you more will be found, so keep your eyes open and just maybe you’ll get a chance to quit your day job.