Did someone rewrite and enhance signatures on the hallowed parchment?
And is that — and the grimy handprint on the document — the result of 20th-century bungling?
Two retired experts with the National Archives who have carefully scrutinized the Declaration think the answers all are yes.
Sometime between 1903 and 1940, officials with access to the Declaration of Independence marred the treasured document, rewriting or overwriting famous signatures and leaving behind a print of a left hand, the experts think.
The two scholars contend that it was also during this period that the handwriting on the Declaration was mysteriously diminished, costing it more of its already dwindling original ink. Now, little of that ink survives.
“Between 1903 … and 1940 someone … took drastic steps that altered the document significantly … [in] what can only be described as the defacement — even if unintentional — of the Declaration,” the authors wrote in the fall issue of the National Archives quarterly magazine, Prologue.
“The defining damage that made the Declaration what it is today was not the result of 19th-century copying or excessive exhibition, but occurred in the 20th century,” wrote Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, the Archives’ retired chief of conservation, and Catherine Nicholson, the retired deputy chief.
“Something happened after 1903 that caused that damage, and made people … enhance the signatures,” Ritzenthaler said in an interview Friday.
Read more: Washington-Enterprise