$4 flea market buy nets $2.4 million at auction Cheap painting had original copy of Declaration of Independence inside.


NEW YORK -- Remember the man who bought a $4 painting at a flea market only to discover a copy of the Declaration of Independence tucked inside?

It sold at auction for $2.42 million yesterday.

An Atlanta art investment company cast the winning bid for the document, one of only 24 known copies printed the night of July 4, 1776, to disseminate news of the Continental Congress' revolutionary act of independence.

The cost, which includes a 10 percent commission to Sotheby's auction house, was the highest price ever paid for printed Americana. The previous record was set last year when another copy of the printing sold for $1.6 million.

"I am going to go to a lot of flea markets from here on out," joked the buyer, Donald J. Scheer, president of Visual Equities Inc., which invests in art objects and paintings.

The Declaration's seller, who was not at the auction, found the folded document behind a painting that he bought for its frame two years ago at a Lancaster County, Pa., antiques market. Sotheby's identified the Philadelphia man only as a financial analyst.

"He's an ordinary guy, and this windfall was so big," said David N. Redden, a Sotheby's senior vice president who heads the books and manuscripts section. "It's not exactly the sort of thing you want to broadcast your name about to everybody."

Flattened and displayed in a lighted glass case on the Sotheby's stage yesterday, the 20-by-16-inch document had few visible flaws. It was slightly creased where it had been folded and contained only four small holes, one over the first "n" in John Hancock's name.

The document was printed a few hours after the Continental Congress formally severed the 13 colonies from Great Britain. Philadelphia printer John Dunlap, who later served as the official printer to Congress, delivered the finished copies to members the morning of July 5. He is believed to have printed no more than 500.

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