Rare Copy Of The US Constitution Sells For A Record-Breaking $43.2 Million

Published November 23, 2021

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.

Us Constitution

Ardon Bar-Hama / Courtesy of Sotheby’sSome 500 copies of the Constitution were originally printed but just 13 are known to still exist.

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— Sotheby’s estimated it would sell for $15 to $20 million — but it also became the most expensive book, manuscript, historical document, or printed text ever sold at auction.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.”

Official Edition Us Constitution

Courtesy of Sotheby’sThe document became the most expensive book, manuscript, historical document, or printed text ever sold at auction.

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.”

The Signing Of The Constitution

Wikimedia CommonsA 1940 painting by Howard Chandler Christy entitled “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States”

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.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Erik Hawkins
Erik Hawkins studied English and film at Keene State College in NH and has taught English as a Second Language stateside and in South America. He has done award-winning work as a reporter and editor on crime, local government, and national politics for almost 10 years, and most recently produced true crime content for NBC's Oxygen network.