A crowdfunded cryptocurrency group called ConstitutionDAO added some drama to the auction by raising $40 million in hopes of buying the document but were ultimately outbid.
More than 200 years ago, delegates gathered in Philadelphia to hammer out the details of the US Constitution. Now, a rare copy of that document has sold for an eye-watering $43.2 million at a Sotheby’s auction.
Not only did the winning bid soar past expectations — Sotheby’s estimated it would sell for $15 to $20 million — but it also became the most expensive book, manuscript, historical document, or printed text ever sold at auction.
“The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” said the winning bidder, Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin.
Explaining that he would loan the document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for a free exhibition, Griffin added: “That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate in our museums and other public spaces.”
The auction had more drama than expected. In the weeks leading up to the bid, a cryptocurrency group called ConstitutionDAO (DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization) launched an effort to purchase the historic document “for the people.” They raised more than $40 million in a week but ultimately lost to Griffin.
“While this wasn’t the outcome we hoped for, we still made history tonight with ConstitutionDAO,” wrote Alice Ma, one of the people behind the cryptocurrency crowdfunding, on Twitter.
“This is the largest crowdfund for a physical object that we are aware of – crypto or fiat.”
Another organizer, Anisha Sunkerneni, noted: “What we tried to do was make the Constitution more accessible to the public. Although we might have not completely accomplished doing just that, I think we’ve raised enough awareness to illustrate that a DAO is another option.”
Of the 500 original copies of the Constitution drawn up in 1787, only 13 are known to exist today. Most of those are held in institutional collections — the Philadelphia Historical Society has six copies — and just two are owned privately.
The copy that was recently purchased for $43.2 million previously sold for much less. In 1988, a real estate developer and collector of historic American books and manuscripts named Howard Goldman purchased the Constitution for $165,000.
His widow, Dorothy Goldman, engineered the most recent sale. She will use the proceeds to benefit the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, which seeks to further the “understanding of our democracy and how the acts of all citizens can make a difference … [and] further the understanding of our Constitutional principles.”
But while most are focused on the jaw-dropping winning bid, some historians are simply pleased that copies of the Constitution remain so desirable.
“The monetary value is what the market says it is, but this auction and the interest in it reflects something much deeper – the intrinsic value of the US constitution and the fact that it remains the force that binds this nation together,” said David Brigham, the chief executive of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
“The earliest written copies of the constitution serve as a reminder of where this country came from and where it can go, and that is priceless. What’s more, it illustrates that even in a digitized world, being able to see and hold a real document from the time of the Constitutional Convention is a powerful thing.”
Perhaps one of the most fascinating results of the historic bid, however, is the role of cryptocurrency crowdfunding.
Though ConstitutionDAO’s bid failed, similar efforts have had more success. A cryptocurrency collective called PleasrDAO succeeded in buying the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin last month for $14 million. And, indeed, many seem eager to keep the crypto crowdfunding movement going.
“Okay so we didn’t get the Constitution,” wrote someone who had donated to the Constitution effort. “What are we going to bid on now?”
After reading about the sale of the US constitution, discover how historians found a rare paper copy of the Declaration of Independence. Or, look through these shocking facts about the Founding Fathers.