Rare First Printing Of The US Constitution Makes History At Sotheby's New York – Antiques and the Arts Online
Published: November 22, 2021
NEW YORK CITY — On November 18 in a much-anticipated, live auction at Sotheby’s, an extremely rare copy of the first printing of the final text of the United States Constitution sold for $43.2 million — more than double its $20 million high estimate and setting a world auction record for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text. The previous world auction record for any historical document was $21.3 million for the 1297 Magna Carta sold at Sotheby’s in 2007, and the previous world auction record for any printed text was $14,165,000 for the Bay Psalm Book sold at Sotheby’s in 2013.
Following an eight-minute bidding battle on the telephones, the hammer fell to Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art.
Sotheby’s revealed the buyer as Kenneth Griffin, founder and chief executive officer Citadel, who will loan the Constitution to Crystal Bridges Museum Of American Art for public exhibition. Said Griffin, “The US Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be. That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate in our museums and other public spaces. I am pleased that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., which always offers free admission, will be the first venue to display our country’s foundational document.”
Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior international specialist for books and manuscripts, remarked, “The sale of this exceptionally rare and important printing of the Constitution was a monumental and historic occasion. The Constitution needs little introduction as one of the most influential and significant historical documents ever conceived, and tonight’s result reflects how relevant it remains 234 years later — not only in America but for global democracy.”
Dorothy Tapper Goldman, collector, educator and philanthropist, commented, “I have not been the owner of the United States Constitution but rather the custodian who has cared for this precious document. I have always felt an obligation and responsibility to facilitate access to the document through public and private exhibitions. New and established citizens, children and students of all ages have had many opportunities to see this touchstone of our republic. It is my fervent wish that the new custodian of this Constitution will guard it and continue to ensure public access to the visual, physical and emotional experience of the document. While an individual person may continue to own this Constitution, it belongs to all Americans of all genders, all colors and religious beliefs. The Constitution is the backbone of our democracy.”
The Constitution was directly underbid by ConstitionDAO, a group of more than 17,000 people from around the world who banded together through social media within the last week to raise money to acquire the document, marking the largest crowdfunding initiative ever put together.
The extremely rare Constitution — now the longest continuing charter of government in the world — is one of just 13 known copies of the official printing produced for the delegates to Constitutional Convention and for the Continental Congress, and only two copies of the first printing of the Constitution that remains in private hands. This printing of the Constitution was last sold at auction in 1988, when it achieved $165,000 by Goldman’s late husband, S. Howard Goldman.
On offer from the collection of Dorothy Tapper Goldman, full proceeds from the sale of the collection will benefit the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, whose mission is to further the understanding of the constitutional principles and how the acts of all citizens can impact America’s democracy. The foundation will achieve these goals through strategic grants to support relevant art projects, cultural and educational institutions and worthy individuals.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
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