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updated: 7/2/2017 8:03 AM

Discovery in abandoned warehouse resurrects detailed copies of Constitution, Declaration

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A trove of antique plates once used to reprint the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, and recently found in a Rockford-area warehouse, could be sold to collectors for $650 or more apiece.

Instead, the plates are being used again for the first time since the 1940s to reprint Constitution copies that can be donated to schools, in part because of a $10,000 investment from College of DuPage board Chairwoman Deanne Mazzochi.

"I thought, how great would it be to have an opportunity to provide more copies of the Constitution during a time of such political polarization?" Mazzochi, of Elmhurst, said. "More people should go back and should be reading it themselves and thinking about things like, 'What are my civil rights?' Those are the age-old debates."

The press plates were owned by Czech-born lithographer Theodore Ohman who, after emigrating to the United States in the 1930s, was dismayed to find that the originals of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were in poor shape. Ohman made it his life's mission to reproduce the documents as they would have appeared in 1776 so the public could appreciate them. His copies are now found in the National Archives, the Library of Congress and Independence Hall, and can sell for hundreds of dollars.

Ohman's printing materials, which went up for auction after Ohman's death in 1968, were purchased by a DeKalb resident who owned a printing business. He died, and some of the items were moved from one warehouse to another after the estate sold.

The plates -- in wooden crates with the words "Constitution" penciled on top -- were found in 2011 lying among the contents of an abandoned warehouse in Kingston, 25 miles west of Elgin. Local businessman Ken Foss had been planning to turn the space into a music store -- a goal that changed dramatically after his discovery.

He wasn't into politics at all but became fascinated with the story.

Foss has, in recent years, taken up Ohman's mission of distributing copies of the Constitution, but until Mazzochi's involvement, had been relying simply on word-of-mouth to promote the effort. He had sold several hundred copies, but had the idea of following Ohman's goal of placing copies in every school by having people buy and donate prints.

Mazzochi, a patent attorney, describes a "genius of the Founding Fathers' wisdom" that is especially pertinent today. She learned about the find from friend Kevin Fitzpatrick of Lombard and quickly decided to invest this spring, she said.

Her money has gone for the construction of the website describing Foss' story of finding the plates and for printing a thousand copies apiece of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Those interested in buying them can visit www.wethepeopleprints.com, where copies of both documents cost $99. Buyers can direct the delivery to a local school.

"Ohman never had the opportunity to take this to a national level because the technology wasn't there," Foss said. "He never had that opportunity. Now, in today's digital world, I can go above and beyond his expectation. ... it comes at a very important time when our country's hungry for this."

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