An “extremely rare” first-edition copy of the US Constitution will go under the hammer in New York next month, with Sotheby’s auction house expecting bids up to $30 million.
Produced ahead of the historic Constitutional Convention of 1787, it is among just 13 of the original printed texts known to have survived — and one of only two still in private hands, the auction house said in a press release Tuesday.
The announcement comes less than a year after the only other privately-held copy fetched a record $43.2 million at auction. The November sale, also held in New York, saw a bidding war between billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and cryptocurrency group Constitution DAO, which raised the equivalent of over $40 million from 17,000 individual investors in what Sotheby’s described as “the most significant crowdfunding initiative ever undertaken.”
The group was ultimately outbid by Griffin, the founder and CEO of investment firm Citadel, who has since lent the document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. In a press release, Sotheby’s said the 2021 sale’s online following had made it the most watched auction in its history.
Richard Austin, Sotheby’s global head of books and manuscripts, expressed hope that next month’s auction will provoke a “similar response” from the public.
“The unprecedented sale result we achieved for the Constitution last November was a truly unique and inspired moment — one that signifies not only the extreme rarity of first printing copies of the Constitution available for private ownership, but also the enduring importance and influence of the Constitution as the ultimate expression of the democratic principles that inform our daily lives more than 200 years since it was first written,” he said in a press statement.
Drafted during a series of secret meetings presided over by George Washington, the US Constitution was written to replace the earlier Articles of Confederation. Around 500 printed copies of the final text were distributed to delegates ahead of the Constitutional Convention, which was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. The constitution was ratified by most states during the next year and came into force in 1789.
Of the other first-edition printed copies known to have survived, 11 belong in institutional and government collections, including those of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the New Jersey State Archives and the Library of Congress.
The copy up for sale in December has not been seen at auction for over 125 years, according to Sotheby’s, which described the item as “extremely rare.” Sold from the collection of Georgia lawyer and politician Charles Colcock Jones in 1894, it was acquired as a gift for businessman and collector Adrian Van Sinderen and has been in private hands ever since. The item has not been on public display since a Stanford University exhibition 35 years ago.
Sotheby’s international senior specialist for books and manuscripts, Selby Kiffer, described its return to the market as a “special moment.”
“While the lasting importance and relevance of the Constitution is often an anodyne talking point today, the fact remains that it is unequivocally the most significant document in United States history, and one that will continue to influence the future of democratic principles in America and around the world,” he said in a statement.