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Lear Buys Declaration Of Independence

Television producer Norman Lear and a partner paid $8.14 million for a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence, and Lear says he is going to make it the star of a patriotic road show.

Sotheby's auction house said Thursday's sale on its Web site brought the highest price for any item ever sold on the Internet and for any American historical document.
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Lear, producer of such shows as All in the Family and Maude, said he and Internet entrepreneur David Hayden planned to send the document on a national tour under the auspices of Lear's liberal advocacy group, People for the American Way.

"Ninety-nine percent of all Americans will never see this document," Lear said. He said it will be shown around the country in "a theatrical event that will be unashamedly patriotic." He did not elaborate.

An amateur collector found the document in 1989 hidden behind a torn painting, which he bought for $4 at an Adamstown, Pa., flea market because he wanted the frame.

In 1991, Sotheby's sold it at auction for a then record $2.4 million to Thursday's seller: Visual Equities, a fine-art investment firm in Atlanta. It failed to sell at auction in 1993.

Lear said he had learned about the auction last week. He said he went to view the document at Sotheby's and wept when he read the opening lines of the declaration, then enlisted Hayden's help in obtaining it.

Hayden—the founder of Critical Path, an Internet messaging service—and Lear faced off with another would-be buyer, posting 29 separate bids that began at $4 million and ended at $7.4 million. Sotheby's commission brought the price to $8.14 million.

The copy was produced by John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer, the night of July 4, 1776. It is one of 25 that survive from the hundreds that were printed and sent to the 13 colonies proclaiming their independence from Great Britain.

All but four of the surviving copies are in museums or public institutions.

Sotheby's had initially predicted the document would sell for between $4 million and $6 million.

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