Record auction for one of the first copies of the US Constitution

A copy of the first printing of the US Constitution of 1787, one of the last in circulation, was auctioned Thursday evening, November 18, in New York for $ 43.2 million (about 38 million euros), commissions included. It narrowly escaped a group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts, who coveted this rare and highly symbolic object, but failed to climb above $ 40 million.

Sotheby’s, which organized this unprecedented sale, announced that this amount constituted a “World record for a historical document offered at auction”. The previous record was held by two letters written by a Chinese calligrapher of the XIIIe siècle, Zhao Mengfu, sold in 2019 in their country of origin, for $ 38.2 million.

There remains, according to the New York auction house, only “Thirteen known copies” of the first printing of the Constitution of the United States, signed September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when 500 had probably been printed at the time.

The copy sold Thursday evening – one of only two still belonging to an individual, in this case the American collector Dorothy Tapper Goldman – was estimated, in September, between 15 million and 20 million dollars.

Sold in eight minutes

It was gone for more than double in just eight minutes, with auctions taken in the New York room, but also over the phone from around the world. If the name of the acquirer has not been communicated, the group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts, called ConstitutionDAO (DAO for “decentralized autonomous organization”), acknowledged on Twitter that despite their efforts, they had “Not won the auction for the copy of the Constitution of the United States”.

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In recent days, he had organized a flash fundraiser, reaching $ 40 million on the ethereum cryptocurrency network (the second in market size after bitcoin), so that “We the People, for the People, we bought the Constitution at Sotheby’s”.

“However, it is a historic evening. This is the largest fundraising by crowdfunding in crypto for a physical object ”, welcomed ConstitutionDAO. Sotheby’s had specified in advance that the copy of the Constitution could not be purchased directly in cryptocurrency but that the sum would have to be converted into conventional currency.

A constitution still “so debated”

This text signed by the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, was part of a private collection of American constitutional documents dating from the revolutionary period from 1776 to 1789.

Selby Kiffer, a historian expert in manuscripts and antique books at Sotheby’s, praised in a statement “The monumental and historic occasion of the sale of this exceptionally rare print”, probably released from the press on the evening of September 16, 1787.

This famous constitutional text, which begins with the famous formula “We, the People of the United States, with a view to forming a more perfect union, (…) we decree and establish this Constitution for the United States of America ”, was then ratified by the Federated States between December 1787 (starting with Delaware) and May 1790 (Rhode Island).

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Sotheby’s had chosen to exhibit this collection in September for the 234e anniversary of the Constitution, but also in a very polarized political climate in the United States, between supporters of former President Donald Trump and the slim Democratic majority of President Joe Biden.

At the time, Mr. Kiffer told Agence France-Presse (AFP) “Find very interesting” that the Constitution is still today “As much debated as it was when it was ratified” over 230 years ago.

The World with AFP

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Record auction for one of the first copies of the US Constitution