Collector pays $4 at flea market and makes $1m find...

A Philadelphia financial analyst goes into an antique market in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and spots a ragged old painting.

It catches his eye, and he buys it for $4.

The man takes it home and removes the painting from its frame. There, hidden between the painting and it's wood backing, he finds a folded document.

He thinks nothing of the document and discards it along with the frame. But a friend who collects Civil War artefacts notices the paper's pristine condition, and urges him to have it appraised.

Both men are in for a massive shock. It turns out to be one of the first printed copies of the US Declaration of Independence.

It's value: around $1m.

This story would be unbelievable, were it not true.

Sotheby's have announced that the document - printed July 4, 1776 and one of just 24 known to exist - was discovered two summers ago by the financial analyst at an antique market.

"It took one second to know it was right," David Redden, vice president of Sotheby's, who authenticated the document, told the local news website

"But what really astonished us was the condition: so fresh, so clean."

Sotheby's says it will sell the document on behalf of the owner on June 4, 2010. The document is 151/2 inches by 193/4 inches on slightly yellowed rag paper, printed in black ink.

It's value is estimated at between $800,000 to $1.2m.

Linda Stanley, vice president of the collections division at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, described the find as, "amazing."

"We get calls all the time from people who say, 'I've got this copy of the Declaration of Independence. It's been in my family for a hundred years.'

"And it turns out to be some crummy facsimile," she said.

Redden called it "the most important single printed page in the world, in the most spectacularly beautiful condition."

The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.

It was the formal announcement to the world that the colonies were breaking away from Britain. Its famous second line reads: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal...

"That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Around 200 copies were produced that same night by a local Philadelphia printer, John Dunlap, for distribution to the public, the army and the government, Redden said.

Robert Batchelder, an Ambler-based dealer in rare manuscripts, called it "a first edition of the most important document in American history."

"Obviously you can't own the original," which is in government hands, he said. "This is the closest to the original that you can actually get."

It is highly rare - but not unheard of - for such a copy to surface, according to Batchelder.

But the way it was found, "is indeed a wonderful story," he said.

In January 1990, another copy of the Declaration was sold at Sotheby's for a record amount to Ralph Geoffrey Newman, a Chicago rare books dealer, who was bidding for an anonymous client.

Sotheby's had estimated the book - from the library of H. Bradley Martin, one of the great book collectors of the century - to be worth $400,000-600,000.

The bidding opened at $250,000 and then went way beyond $600,000...

The copy eventually sold for a $1,595,000.

"I figured $1.5 million was enough," one unsuccessful bidder reportedly said. It wasn't.

Newman described the Martin copy as, "one of the finest copies in existence."

Unsurprisingly, a copy of the Declaration of Independence from John Dunlap's print run is one of the ultimate investments in rare historical documents.

"There's a fixed supply of these things and a constant increase in the number of people collecting," said Batchelder to "[So] the trend in manuscript prices has been very consistently up."

The first copy of a Dunlap-printed Declaration ever auctioned was discovered on New Year's Eve in 1968.

Experts were cataloguing the contents of Philadelphia's esteemed Leary's Book Store, which had gone out of business the previous November.

That copy was expected to bring about $35,000.

During a three-minute auction, a Texas businessman, Ira G. Corn Jr., bought it for $404,000. He donated it to the city of Dallas.

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£65,000
In stock