National treasure: Customs finds 1816 copy of Declaration of Independence

The original document, signed that same year, disappeared without a trace

A national treasure has been recovered. A contemporaneous copy of the 1816 Argentine Declaration of Independence has been found in Buenos Aires — the original, signed 207 years ago today, disappeared.

The recovered copy is one of 1500 printed versions made the same year — these are considered extremely important and “original” given the absence of the real thing, which was handwritten. Despite the efforts to find the original declaration, it’s still unclear even when it went missing — whether it happened shortly after its signing or decades later. A true historical mystery to this day.

Only a few copies of the document have survived in museums and archives over the past 200 years. The initial 1500 copies were printed and distributed throughout the country and sent abroad by orders of “Supreme Director” Juan Martín de Pueyrredón on August 13, 1816. They were intended to proclaim that Argentina — or what was then known as the Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata — was now free from the colonial rule. Hundreds of copies in Quechua, Aimara and Guaraní were also distributed in northern Argentina.

How was the copy found?

The copy of the Declaration of Independence was found by chance in an operation by Customs. The government entity was looking for a Peruvian book written in the 1770s after they received an alert from the Culture Ministry of the neighboring country.

Investigators discovered that the book appeared in the catalog of an online antique bookstore website, which operated in Buenos Aires. They searched several properties and found the copy of the Declaration of Independence — and the Peruvian manuscript.

There have been many searches for the original Declaration of Independence with the signatures of the Provincias Unidas representatives. In 1916, President Victorino de la Plaza ordered a search to find it in time for the 100 years of the Argentine Independence celebrations. President Arturo Illia tried doing the same 50 years later, with no luck. Instead, we have few printed copies like the one found today — for now.

The copy of the Declaration of Independence found in Buenos Aires. Source: Customs

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