Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The foundation of the Sprague-Thacher-Ball-Lilly Library- Indiana University set of Signers of the Declaration of Independence lies in one of the three full sets formed by Dr. William E. Sprague, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church of Albany, New York, who is generally believed to have originated the idea of collecting Signers. It is based on a collection presented by Dr. Sprague to his son, Edward Everett Sprague. The wrapper with presentation inscription is present in the set. It reads: "Autographs of all the Signers of the Declaration of Independence: a New Year's Present for my dear boy, Edward Everett Sprague 1861." This set is believed to have been completed as early as 1848, thus ranking as one of the first five completed sets.

Shortly before 1889 the younger Sprague sold the set to John Boyd Thacher of the Thacher Car Wheel Works of Albany, New York, a boyhood friend who served as a State Senator and Mayor of Albany. At the time of the purchase Thacher already possessed a partial collection of Signers, and he used the Sprague set to complete and enrich his own. Thacher died in 1909. His set of Signers was cataloged by the Anderson Galleries, New York, New York, in Part I of the catalog of the John Boyd Thacher sale, October 1913. A negative photostat of the pages of this catalog describing the manuscripts in the Thacher set of Signers is filed with the set. A comparison of the set as it is today with this catalog listing shows that no changes have been made in the set since Thacher's day. The collection of Signers was not sold at this time. It was withdrawn from the sale and was not disposed of by the Thacher heirs until 1924 when it was sold privately by Mitchell Kennerly of The Anderson Galleries to George A. Ball of Muncie, Indiana. It remained in his possession until 1953 when it was acquired by an anonymous donor for presentation to the Indiana University Library.

The Manuscript Division of the Lilly Library, Indiana University, has a carbon copy of a typewritten volume entitled "The Indiana University Library Set of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Acquired by Gift, November 2, 1953." It contains transcripts of the letters and documents in the set, made in 1953-1954 by Mrs. Mary Lou Grobe, clerk typist, with an introduction by Doris M. Reed, Curator of Manuscripts.

Collection size: 56 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.