Need help authenticating document

 

An original 1775 document from the Revolutionary War has recently come into my possession. How do I authenticate it?

Responses

The Smithsonian Institution Archives is not able to provide these kinds of services to the general public. However, the Smithsonian has put together a resource guide regarding independent appraisal that will potentially help with authentication, and the American Institute for Conservation provides information on finding a conservator and selecting a professional conservator.

Authentication is a joint process of identifying physical evidence (the type of paper used, the printing technology, etc.) through a condition examination and technical analysis perhaps involving sampling and fiber identification, and establishing provenance (the history of the object in time, such as owners, sales receipts or wills documenting transfer). Conservators can provide the former, while curators, historians and appraisers provide the latter.

If you are able to do some of your own research, it will be helpful to learn more about the context of your object. Next, you will want to document how the object came into your possession. For example, was it handed down to you or did you find it at an estate sale? Where, when, and from whom? Are there physical documents that support the where, when, and who, such as receipts, tags, notes, auction catalog listings? Having this kind of information on hand can be of help during the authentication process.

More information on dating an object by its physical characteristics is found here on our blog post on watermarks. Be sure to read the comment trail for updates! 

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