Dr. Stephen M. Matyas, Jr. is a researcher, writer, and collector.
In 2008, Dr. Matyas was the winner of the Abebooks Win a Bookseller for a Day
Contest, in which each entrant submitted an essay describing their book collection. The winning essay entitled
Declaration of Independence Collection is reprinted here in its entirety.
Start of Essay
I collect books dated 1776–1825 that reprint the full text of the Declaration of Independence,
in English. At first, I limited the collection to books dated pre-1900, later to books pre-1850, and eventually to
pre-1826. Limiting the collection to "The first 50 years" prevented it from becoming too large, and unmanageable.
Yet, it provided a large enough number of books (approximately 300), so that many were conveniently accessible and reasonably
priced. While, a fewer number were of sufficient scarcity, or rarity, to make "the hunt" challenging and improbable
that any one person could assemble, or "build," a collection deemed complete.
more improbable, was the reason for beginning collecting in the first place: I started collecting because
of a treasure story! The first "book" in my collection was, in fact, a photocopy of a 23-page pamphlet
published in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1885, entitled "The Beale Papers, containing authentic statements regarding
the treasure buried in 1819 and 1821, near Bufords, in Bedford County, Virginia, and which has never been recovered."
Many years passed before I was able to locate and purchase an original copy of this scarce pamphlet.
pamphlet describes three numerical ciphers, one of which allegedly gives the location of a buried treasure of gold,
silver and jewels estimated to be worth over $30 million. One of the remaining two cipher texts allegedly describes
the contents of the treasure; the other gives a list of names of the treasure's owners and their
next of kin. The cipher describing the contents of the treasure was deciphered by numbering the words in the Declaration
of Independence and replacing each cipher number by the first letter of the corresponding numbered word. Following the
publication of the pamphlet, a number of attempts were made to decode the two remaining cipher texts, but none met with success.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the Beale treasure story affected the course of my life in several
ways. While in graduate school I wrote a thesis on cryptanalysis, inspired to a large extent by the Beale ciphers.
This led to a position, and life-long career, in IBM's Cryptography Center of Competency and co-authorship of a book "Cryptography
- a new dimension in computer data security" that won the American Association of Publishers "Best Book in Technology"
award. I joined the Beale Cypher Association, wrote programs trying to break the ciphers, published papers on the
subject, made trips to the treasure site, was interviewed for newspaper articles, and appeared on Arthur C. Clarke's
Mysterious Universe TV program.
I recall thinking about the fascinating problem posed by the ciphers. At length, I concluded
the following: First, the Declaration of Independence which Beale used to encipher one of his messages,
was probably taken from a book. Second, Beale's other two messages were probably enciphered with a like method, using two
key texts taken from books. Third, there was a good chance that all three key texts were taken from the same book. Thus,
a book dated before 1823, reprinting the Declaration of Independence, might very well contain the two wanted key
texts. So, I began collecting books that reprinted the Declaration of Independence, hoping to find the missing key
texts and break the remaining two ciphers.
At first, I browsed
through books in dealer's shops looking for the Declaration of Independence. I found only a small number of books
this way. Then, I subscribed to AB Bookman's Weekly. I found that dealers' listings sometimes carried words like "includes
the Declaration of Independence." I recall waiting patiently for my weekly AB Bookman magazine to arrive so
that I could search through the "Books for Sale" section. I managed to purchase a fair number of books using this
After a time, I realized that better success could be had by producing a "want list"
circulated to book dealers. However, producing a meaningful want list was no simple matter, as there was no bibliography or
checklist of books reprinting the Declaration of Independence that could be consulted. Such a list simply didn't
exist. This meant that I would have to construct the want list from scratch. Here's how I did it.
On the basis of just a few number of books collected thus far, I was able to infer or predict the type of book that
would likely reprint the Declaration of Independence. I purchased copies of Evans' "American Bibliography (1639-1800),"
Shaw and Shoemaker's "American Bibliography (1801-1819)," Shoemaker's "American Imprints (1820-1825),"
and Sabin's "Dictionary of books relating to America." I searched these bibliographies, identifying books that were
"good candidates." In some cases, a book's title mentioned that it reprinted the Declaration of Independence.
That was easy. But, in most cases there was no way to tell whether a book reprinted the Declaration of Independence
except by searching the book, page by page. I was granted permission to use the Cadet Library at West Point, and most of the
"good candidates" were searched there using their Readex Collection (Evans Series and Shaw Series) on microcard.
West Point also had a set of the National Union Catalog, pre-1956 imprints, which I seached diligently, as well, which was
especially helpful for identifying "good candidates" printed outside the U.S.
Of the some 100,000 possible books published from 1776-1825, I narrowed the search to roughly 6,000 "good candidates."
These were searched over a two-and-a-half-year period. Most of the work was conducted at West Point. Those not accessible
via the Readex Collection were searched at major libraries, like the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.
The search netted about 300 different books containing the Declaration of Independence (less the
50 or so that I had located previously). The "list of 300," as I termed it, was used to prepare the "want list"
sent to dealers.
But, even before the "list of 300"
had been completed, a subtle change took place: I got hooked on collecting. The initial purpose for collecting
was wholly replaced by a genuine desire to build a collection, mostly for shear enjoyment, but one I could be proud
of— a collection of value, which I reasoned would be unique,
focused and meaningful.
Using a list of dealers obtained from one of AB Bookman's yearly publications,
I sent a prepared "want list" to some 150 to 200 book dealers. A flood of responses was received, some of which
included the titles of books containing the Declaration of Independence that I was not yet aware of. My collection
grew dramatically over a period of a few more years. I managed to purchase a copy of "The constitution of the state of
New-York," Fish-kill, Samuel Loudon, 1777, and a copy of the "The Constitutions of the
several independent states of America," Philadelphia, 1781. Although much time
and resource was expended in preparing the "list of 300," the list was crucial to the collection; without
it, the collection could never have been "built."
In 1999, I gave up the old ways of collecting, and shifted my collecting efforts
to the Internet, nowadays the preferred method, with access to several million books and several thousand book sellers. I
use a list of "wants" posted on AbeBooks, and occasionally bid on select books on eBay. And, I now look forward
to receiving my daily messages: "AbeBooks has found the book you want." For all practical purposes, online book
purchasing is the only way I am able to continue adding books of quality and value to my collection. Incidentally,
online purchasing has allowed me to add three unrecorded books to the collection: "Speeches for schools,"
1805; "The constitution of Vermont," 1811, and "The farewell address of George Washington," 1813.
The Declaration of Independence collection is now a mature collection, although many books can still be
If asked what the collection
represents, and what I've learned from it, I'd respond this way. Firstly, the collection is a reflection of the way
our early citizens felt about their new freedom. Even the pirate Jean Laffite, who aided Gen. Andrew Jackson (later President
Jackson) during the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans, referred to the Declaration of Independence as
that "sacred document."— "The Journal
of Jean Laffite," 1958. Secondly, the books "tell" the following story: At first, the Declaration of Independence
was new, and it was printed hurriedly with little or no comment. We find two American book printings in July, 1776. This was
followed by at least 13 British periodical printings in August and September. British printings with scathing rebuttals came
later. The Declaration of Independence was reprinted in "The Remembrancer," 1776, and the following
year in the "Annual Register" — both British works,
and the most reliable sources of information regarding the Revolution. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was
reprinted three times in different volumes of "The Remembrancer." Because of its historic significance,
the Declaration of Independence was afterwards reprinted many times in both American and British histories on the
American Revolution, and likewise in U.S. histories. In 1781, the Declaration of Independence was reprinted together
with the Articles of Confederation and the different state constitutions, in a small book entitled "The constitutions
of the several independent states of America." After all, the Declaration of Independence was one of the founding
one British author commented that he couldn't understand why the Congress directed only 200 copies of such an important book
to be printed. In any case, the book was thereafter reprinted in Britain and America many times under similar titles, later
adding the U.S. Constitution, and new state constitutions, as they became available. Similar books also appeared under different
titles: "The American's guide," "The Freeman's guide," and "The American citizen's sure guide."
The Declaration of Independence was also reprinted in collections of both state laws and U.S. laws, and
also together with individual state constitutions. It was also reprinted in many works for purely patriotic reasons — the most noteworthy being Alexander Macwhorter's "A festival
discourse," 1793, and Gabriel Nourse's "The glorious spirit of '76," 1806. Eventually, a sort of symbiotic
relationship seems to have developed between the public and book publishers. Patriotic citizens welcomed publication of the
Declaration of Independence, and book publishers were eager to issue new and improved editions, often accommodated
by adding the Declaration of Independence and other documents to these works.
interesting things were also learned, although not "earth shattering." A few are worth mentioning here. Early
on, I learned that the Declaration of Independence was reprinted in the preamble to the 1777 constitution of the
state of New York, and not changed until 1821 — a fact that
few people probably know. One of the curiosities in the "list of 300" was a 37-page pamphlet The Declaration
of Independence, printed by John Bull, 1796. This pamphlet reprints the Declaration of Independence
twice: once as a separate document, and a second time within the preamble to the constitution of the state of New York. Moreover,
the wording in the two Declarations differs slightly. In fact, a personal collection such as the Declaration
of Independence collection permits books to be examined on a scale not possible using most library collections.
The convenience of immediate access to personal copies cannot be overstated. Individual books can be easily examined, and
books can be laid side by side for purposes of easy comparison. Using this simple technique, I discovered that there were
virtually no two books in which the respective Declarations of Independence were exactly the same, except where the
sheets were obviously printed from the same setting of type. Apparently, in these early times, publishers resorted to copying
the text of the Declaration of Independence from some other book, resulting in a copy of a copy of a copy, etc.,
thus propagating errors from one copy to the next. Some errors were so prevalent that they could be considered major variations,
e.g., using the word "inalienable" in place of "unalienable" or using the phrase "institute a new government" in place of "institute new government."
15th, 2006, a house fire nearly consumed my collection. Fire, water and smoke destroyed or damaged most of the house.
But the collection, which was housed in a book case along an outside wall, was luckily constructed with protective
6 mil plastic sheeting installed in the top of the case, which could be easily drown down over the books, preventing any water
or smoke damage. Due to the quick reacting firemen, the collection was spared. A few un-shelved books wound up in
the water-soaked, charred rubble, but were retrieved. Some of these were washed, dried, and later rebound, while a few others
that fared better were put in an ozone chamber in order to de-smoke them. Every effort was made to restore the collection
to its original state.
In many respects, it seems unlikely that a collection of this sort would ever exist. The initial reason
for collecting, the work to compile the "want list," and the survival from fire, all seem improbable. Yet
life is full of improbable events, and surprises. Take for example, the deaths of the last two surviving signers to the Declaration
of Independence, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Both ex-presidents died on July 4th, 1826 exactly 50 years,
too the day, after the Declaration of Independence had been adopted by Congress (July 4th, 1776).
(Stephen is currently working on a checklist of books that reprint the
Declaration of Independence 1776–1825,
developed from his "list of 300," which he intends to make available to collectors and other interested
End of Essay
As the winner of the essay contest, Dr. Matyas was also profiled in
the November/December 2008 issue of "Fine Books & Collections magazine," in the section headed "How I Got
addition to his latest publication (Declaration of Independence —
A Checklist), Dr. Matyas is the author of several other works. Most noteworthy is
the book "Cryptography — A new dimension
in computer data security," John Wiley & Sons, 1982 (mentioned above), co-authored with Dr. Carl H. Meyer, International
Business Machines Corporation. The book won the American Association of Publishers "Best Book in Technology" award
in 1982. He is also a contributing author to the following works:
- "Telecommunications in the U.S. —
trends and policies," 1981.
- "CRYPTOLOGY yesterday,
today, and tomorrow," 1987.
- "McGraw-Hill Yearbook
of science and technology 1979 Review," 1980.
- "McGraw-Hill encyclopedia
of science & technology," 5th edition 1982, 6th edition 1985, and 7th edition 1990.
He has also published a monograph
entitled "The Beale Ciphers containing research findings, and documents and data, as well as several predictions about
how the ciphers were constructed," 1996.
Dr. Matyas has authored scores
of technical journal and magazine articles, and he has nearly a hundred patents issued by the U.S. Patent Office.
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