A RARE copy of the American Declaration of Independence which had been missing for almost 180 years has sold for $4,420,000 (£3,210,000) at auction in the US after being discovered in the attic of a Scottish ancestral home.

The signer’s copy of the 1776 declaration, one of only six known still to be in private hands, was uncovered by the Edinburgh’s Lyon & Turnbull auction house after one of its specialists was asked to look at some books and papers.

They passed it on to their sister house Freeman’s in the US.

The price is the second highest ever paid at auction for any copy of the Declaration of Independence, the highest for an American document printed in the 19th century and quadruples the world auction record for a William J Stone printing of the Declaration, previously set in New York in 2019.

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It is one of two copies presented to founding father Charles Carroll of Carrollton in 1824, a wealthy American and the first US senator from the state of Maryland.

He gave both of his copies to his grandson-in-law, John MacTavish (1787-1852), a Scottish-Canadian diplomat and businessman who served as British Consul to Maryland and married Carroll’s granddaughter, Emily Caton. MacTavish gave one copy to Maryland Historical Society, then copied Carroll’s signature and inscription from that copy onto this second copy, adding an explanatory note.

Carroll was an early advocate for independence of the 13 American Colonies from Great Britain and was to become the last survivor of the 56 signatories, dying in 1832 at the age of 96. Together the Colonies formed the United States of America.

Lyon & Turnbull’s rare books, manuscripts and maps specialist, Cathy Marsden, who found he copy, said: “I was looking through a pile of papers which had been brought down from the attic, amongst which was a folded up, vellum, document. Opening it up, I could see was a copy of the Declaration of Independence. “When I got back to the office and started doing some research I became really excited as its significance became clearer.

“After extensive research we confirmed it was indeed one of the 201 copies made by William Stone, of which only 48 of them are known to still exist. Being able to identify to whom the copy belonged made it even more exciting and rare.”

Freeman’s and Lyon & Turnbull formed a marketing alliance in 2000 and, with a special focus on single-owner collections, they have successfully staged a wide range of joint international projects over the last two decades, including specialist auctions in Hong Kong and London as well as exhibitions and events on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Paul Roberts, vice-chairman of Lyon & Turnbull and president of Freeman’s in Philadelphia, added: “This was a great effort from both teams on both sides of the Atlantic a very proud moment for me personally – an international team working in perfect harmony to achieve a wonderful result on behalf of an extremely appreciative and supportive client.

“When Cathy Marsden first showed me this document on Christmas Eve I knew it was interesting but today’s outcome – achieving $4.4m on the eve of Independence Day weekend nearly 4000 miles away – is extraordinary.”

The vendors want to remain anonymous.