"An original first print of the American Declaration of Independence has been discovered gathering dust in Britain.
The document that changed history was approved on July 4, 1776, and this is one of only 26 copies known to have survived out of 200 printed that night.
The poster size proclamation is in perfect condition and is said to be worth £5million.
It was found by chance by an American antiquarian bookseller carrying out unrelated research in the National Archives in Kew, West London.
The manuscript was hidden among correspondence from U.S. colonists that had been intercepted by the British in the 18th century.
The Declaration, which helped establish the guiding principles of modern democracy, was written mainly by U.S. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson and is described by historians as 'America's birth certificate'.
It includes the then extraordinary assertion: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,' which paved the way for the French Revolution 13 years later.
It was signed by 56 delegates from the 13 American colonies that were at war with Britain.
The 200 first copies were made by printer John Dunlap that night and distributed throughout the colonies the following morning to be read aloud to the colonists and their militia.
It is not certain how the newly discovered copy came into British hands, but it is likely to have been captured by the Royal Navy during the American Revolutionary War which continued for seven years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
The last discovery of a Dunlap print was at a flea market in 1989, and it sold at auction in 2000 for £4.94million.
Despite its value, the National Archives said it will not be selling the print, although it might be loaned to former foes in the U.S.
'The Americans are very excited by it,' said a spokesman.
'We do often loan out our key documents and I'm sure if an American institution wanted to borrow it, we would consider lending it to them.
'It's amazing that it has been lying here for so long undetected. It just shows how many documents we have.'
Edward Hampshire, the diplomatic and colonial specialist at the National Archives, said it was an incredibly exciting find.
'It is likely that only around 200 of these were ever printed, so uncovering a new one nearly 250 years later is extremely rare, especially one in such good condition'.
The National Archives already has two other copies of the Declaration of Independence, one of which it keeps on display.
The Declaration was signed by 56 delegates from the colonies including two future presidents, Jefferson and John Adams, prompting church bells to ring over Philadelphia.
In the U.S. July 4 is marked by a public holiday, known as Independence Day."
Click to view image: 'document 2'
Click to view image: 'thumbnail'
|Liveleak on Facebook|