On Thursday night, in between two contemporary art sales, Sotheby’s sold a rare copy of the United States constitution for $43 million, making it one of the most expensive historic documents ever to be sold at auction.
The edition was sold by New York philanthropist Dorothy Tapper Goldman, and is one of 13 surviving first copies of the founding document. It is the only version that remains in private hands. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the new owner’s namesake foundation, which promotes educational causes related to Constitutional history.
Two bidders on the phone with Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley and David Schrader, Sotheby’s head of private sales, competed for the edition, driving the hammer price up to $41 million, more than double its $15 million low estimate. The document sold for a final price of $43 million with fees.
In an unexpected turn of events, a group of crypto investor organized under the name Constitution DAO raised a fund in hopes of purchasing the constitution, planning to partner with an organization to display it. The group issued a statement following the sale confirming it was outbid.
Goldman held onto the copy since 1997, when she inherited it after the death of her husband, Harry Goldman. Harry purchased it at Sotheby’s for $165,000 in 1988, when it was sold by a collector from Philadelphia. Before Harry’s death, he loaned the copy to the Supreme Court for a year to coincide with the 1987 bicentennial of the Constitution’s ratification.
The 1787 edition is the final text of the Constitution printed for submission to the Continental Congress. Nearly 500 copies were printed, though only a handful are believed to still exist. “I handled the sale of this very document in 1988,” said Sotheby’s head of international real estate, Selby Kiffer, ahead of the auction. “I have kept my eye on it ever since.”
Nearly 80 more historical documents owned by Goldman will be sold in New York next week at Sotheby’s. Another group of rare items from the philanthropists’ collection will be auctioned in an online sale that will run from November 23–December 2.