When John Quincy Adams was not yet president but secretary of state, he ordered that 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence be made, as the then-40-year-old calfskin document was already becoming tough to read. And so it was done, with the copies—thought to be made over a two-year period by tracing the original, which facilitated the hand-engraving of it on a copper plate—being doled out in 1824 to political luminaries like Thomas Jefferson. James Madison received two copies, and it's the story of one that's now come into focus, thanks to David M. Rubenstein, the billionaire who bought the copy last month for "seven figures" and plans to lend it to museums so others may see it.
As the Washington Post reports, the document has been in the hands of Madison's descendants all this time. During the Civil War, it was apparently hidden behind wallpaper in a Lexington, Va., home in a successful effort to conceal it from Union soldiers. Michael O'Mara recalls it resting on his parents' mantelpiece half a century ago, but after the frame cracked, he says it sat, still in that damaged frame, in a bedroom closet. O'Mara reached out to Rubenstein, who Smithsonian reports already owned four of the copies, in 2016 to see if he would be interested in what is at this point one of just 51 of the facsimiles known to have survived; the status of Madison's other copy is not known. (This Declaration of Independence copy is unlike all others.)