An extremely rare copy of the U.S. Constitution has just been sold at auction.
The copy is one of only two copies of the United States Constitution from the first printing which are still in private hands.
It just sold at auction for $43.2 million, becoming the most expensive historical document ever sold at auction and doubling the bid estimates made by Sotheby’s.
A lengthy bidding battle between the final two parties was a dramatic showdown which featured a group of cryptocurrency investors and a hedge fund billionaire.
First printing Constitution breaks records at auction
Extremely rare first printings of historic books or documents which generate this much interest rarely come up for auction. When they do they tend to fetch astronomically high prices.
The first printing of the U.S. Constitution is as rare as it gets. Of 500 initial copies only two remain in private hands. Only 13 survive in total, most held by institutional collections.
Sotheby’s described the document as one of the rarest and most coveted ever sold at auction, rarer even than a first-edition Declaration of Independence.
The first official printing was ordered by the Constitutional Convention for delegates after the final text was agreed to following the secretive negotiations in Philadelphia which finally produced a replacement for the flawed Articles of Confederation.
Despite being older, the nature of the Declaration of Independence has allowed more first printing copies to survive; that document was meant to be rapidly distributed throughout the colonies to rally support for the Revolution.
The Constitution was initially treated with much more trepidation.
This would be the second attempt at a governing document for the new country and none of the delegates could be certain that it would succeed.
Document to be free for public viewing
The copy sold through Sotheby’s was last purchased in 1988 for $165,000 by S. Howard Goldman, who acquired it from another private collector in Philadelphia.
Goldman’s widow Dorothy chose to sell the document, which aroused enormous interest from prospective buyers.
A collective of cryptocurrency investors called ConstitutionDAO crowdfunded a prominent campaign that entered into the final bidding battle with an unknown entity.
The group had plans to find a museum or other institution which would have the capacity to preserve and display the Constitution, ideally giving the public access to see the document for free.
They were eventually outbid by an unexpected mystery buyer. Ken Griffin, CEO of the hedge fund Citadel, has since announced that he was that unknown bidder.
Fortunately, Griffin’s plans for the Constitution are essentially the same as those expressed by ConstitutionDAO. Expressing his admiration for the founding document, Griffin assured the public that it will be made available for viewing in a museum with free admission.
The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas has been announced as the lucky first beneficiary of the purchase.
That museum has always offered free admission and has announced that it is thrilled to be given the opportunity to display the document for public viewing.