Over the holiday weekend I had a rather surprising media encounter: I spotted a paper version of The New York Times in the wild -- at, specifically, a downtown Manhattan coffee shop where printed periodicals of any sort are endangered species. (Everybody's typically on a laptop, iPad or other mobile device.) As I picked up and paged through the large, inky, crinkly thing (presumably left behind by an elderly person), I was treated with another surprise: a full-page Times house ad with the banner headline "OWN THIS NATIONAL TREASURE" above a big picture of an "Original July 1776 Declaration of Independence Broadside." The sales pitch read:
"The New York Times Store, in collaboration with The Caren Archive, is proud to offer one of the most important documents in American history. This rare version of the Declaration of Independence was actually printed before the founding fathers signed their historic manuscript in Philadelphia.
This extraordinary antique broadside was printed between July 13-15, 1776, in Salem, Mass., by Ezekiel Russell. Such large printed documents in the 18th century were used to communicate the most spectacular news. Only six copies of this original are known to exist and four of them are already in public institutions.
It is so rare, even The Library of Congress does not own this printing of the Declaration of Independence.
You can buy all kinds of stuff in The New York Times Store for various prices -- from $10.99 (marked down from $14.95 in a "Super Summer Sale!") for a Times travel mug to $2,495 for a boxing glove signed by Muhammad Ali -- but if you want this particular "breathtaking collector's item" (as the ad puts it), you'll need to shell out $1.6 million. Or, as the Times clarifies on its website: "$1,600,000.00 U.S. Dollars" -- plus applicable taxes and an unspecified shipping charge. Be advised that if you elect to pay for it by credit card, "applicable credit card processing fees will be included in the actual purchase price."
Jim Mones, director of The New York Times Online Store and Photo Archives, has a letter online addressed to interested parties titled "Background on This Historical Document" that begins, "It's not every day that you get to sell the Declaration of Independence." (Shyeah.)
Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. Follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.