“We the people . . .” The U.S. Constitution is the full statement of the supreme law of the land in America. Now a rare first printing of this founding document has sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $43.2 million. The price shatters records for any document or book ever sold at auction.
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The Constitution’s anonymous winning bidder at last Thursday night’s sale outbid a group of 17,000 cryptocurrency enthusiasts from around the world. They had crowdfunded to buy it over the last week.
The document offered for sale was one of 13 known copies of the first printing of the Constitution and one of only two in private hands.
This printing of the Constitution was last sold in 1988, when real estate developer and collector S. Howard Goldman bought it at auction for $165,000.
Proceeds from the sale will benefit a foundation established by Goldman’s widow, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, to further the understanding of constitutional principles.
“[The] sale of this exceptionally rare and important printing of the Constitution was a monumental and historic occasion,” says Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior international specialist for books and manuscripts.
Kiffer believes the auction result reflects how relevant the Constitution remains, “not only in America but for global democracy.”
The underbidder group was ConstitutionDAO. It announced its plan to raise millions of dollars to buy the Constitution on Twitter on November 12. DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization, a type of community-run business that operates on the blockchain.
After losing the bid, ConstitutionDAO tweeted: “Community: We did not win the bid.” The group promised its 17,437 contributors a refund—minus transaction fees. Sotheby’s calls the effort by ConstitutionDAO the largest crowd-funding initiative ever.
The previous auction record for a book or manuscript was set in 1994 when Bill Gates purchased the Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci at Christie’s for $30.8 million.
The group ConstitutionDAO says, “We were the first DAO Sotheby’s has ever worked with, but we’re sure we won’t be the last.”
(A first printing of the United States Constitution at Sotheby’s auction house during a press preview on November 5, 2021, in New York. AP/Mary Altaffer)