It was one of 25 copies printed on July 4, 1776, the same day the original was signed at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
In their hit film, "National Treasure," Nicholas Cage and his friends steal the Declaration of Independence. Getting hold of such a treasure by stealing it might seem like the only option to get hold of the iconic document. But is it? What if you found it enveloped behind a random $4 dollar painting? Too imaginative? Well, it's true. A thrift store shopper paid $4 for an "ugly painting" because he liked the frame in 1991 at a Pennsylvania flea market. He then discovered a folded-up copy of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence behind the painting. This astonishingly rare find sold for more than $7 million at auction in 2000 (talk about lucky thrifting), according to My Modern Met.
When the man disassembled the purchase, he discovered a document folded in an envelope. The man did not realize the significance at first, but he saved the discovery. The same year, The New York Times was told by David Redden, head of the book and manuscript department at Sotheby's in Manhattan, who announced the discovery and helped sell the document at auction, "He kept the declaration, which he had found behind the painting. It was folded up, about the size of a business envelope. He thought it might be an early 19th-century printing and worth keeping as a curiosity." The man's friend persuaded him to take the document to Sotheby's for further examination. It was discovered to have been printed in 1776, as part of a run of 25 printed immediately after the signing. These copies were printed on July 4, 1776, the same day the original was signed at Philadelphia's Independence Hall. They were printed by John Dunlap, the Continental Congress' official printer, and distributed the next morning to spread the word of the historic decision to secede from England made the day before.
Selby Kiffer, an Americana printing specialist at Sotheby's said, "The discovery of any first-printing copy of the declaration, even a fragmentary one or a poor copy, would be exciting. But on this one, the condition is beyond reproach. It was folded up when we first saw it -- the way the owner said it was in the painting, less than one-tenth of an inch thick. I had to agree with him it was just as well that he kept it that way. There has been absolutely no restoration, no repair. It was unframed and unbacked. The ink was still wet on this copy when it was folded. The very first line -- 'In Congress, July 4, 1776' -- shows up in the bottom margin in reverse, as a faint offsetting or shadow printing, one more proof of the urgency John Dunlap, the printer, and others felt in dispersing this document." According to him, only 7 of the 24 copies are unbacked, which increases their value. He also stated that the declaration was the fourth copy of the first printing to surface in the last ten years, with three of them being known copies or passed down to heirs of the original 18th-century owners.
This document was expected to fetch a maximum of $1 million at auction in 1991, but it fetched an incredible $2.2 million (approximately $5 million today). This copy, in particular, is well preserved and lacks the backing that was attached to many early copies. It was sold again in 2000 for $7.4 million (roughly $13 million today), as per IFL Science. The fact that it was hidden and protected within the painting made it a truly unique find, but that doesn't mean you should go out and buy any old painting right away...or maybe you could.