First printing of Constitution sells for $43.2M; Crystal Bridges plans display

A copy of the first printing of the finalized United States Constitution sold for $43.2 million and set world auction records for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A copy of the first printing of the finalized United States Constitution sold for $43.2 million and set world auction records for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

NEW YORK (AP) – A rare first printing of the U.S. Constitution will be on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art after fetching a record $43.2 million at auction, Sotheby’s announced last Friday. This is a record price for a document or book sold at auction, according to a statement by Sotheby’s.

The buyer, hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin, will loan the document the Bentonville museum for exhibit, Sotheby’s said and Griffin confirmed.

Griffin, the founder and CEO of multinational hedge fund Citadel, outbid a group of 17,000 cryptocurrency enthusiasts from around the world who crowdfunded to buy it over the last week.

“The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Griffin said in a statement. “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.

“I am pleased that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which always offers free admission, will be the first venue to display our country’s foundational document.”

Crystal Bridges board Chairwoman Olivia Walton said, “We are honored to exhibit one of the most important documents in our nation’s history from our location in the heartland of America. “We welcome our neighbors and diverse visitors from across the country and around the world to see the US Constitution alongside our art collection that focuses on telling the story of the history of America.”

The museum opened in 2011 and was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton.

The document that Griffin purchased at the November 18 auction was one of 13 known copies of the first printing of the Constitution and one of only two in private hands.

The extremely rare Constitution purchased by Griffin is one of just 13 known copies of the official printing produced for the delegates to Constitutional Convention and for the Continental Congress. It is one of only two copies of the first printing that remain in private hands.

Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior international specialist for books and manuscripts, said in a statement the sale of “this exceptionally rare and important printing of the Constitution was a monumental and historic occasion. The Constitution needs little introduction as one of the most influential and significant historical documents ever conceived, and tonight’s result reflects how relevant it remains 234 years later — not only in America, but for global democracy.”

The printing of the Constitution headed for Crystal Bridges was last sold in 1988, when real estate developer and collector S. Howard Goldman bought it at auction for $165,000. Full proceeds from Thursday’s sale will benefit a foundation established by Goldman’s widow, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, to further the understanding of constitutional principles. The foundation will achieve these goals through strategic grants to support relevant art projects, cultural and educational institutions, and worthy individuals.

“I have not been the owner of the United States Constitution, but rather the custodian who has cared for this precious document. I have always felt an obligation and responsibility to facilitate access to the document through public and private exhibitions,” Mrs. Goldman said in a statement.

Produced for the delegates to Constitutional Convention and for the Continental Congress, only 13 copies of the official printing of the United States Constitution are known, and this example was one of two remaining in private hands. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s. Photo credit: Ardon Bar-Hama

Produced for the delegates to Constitutional Convention and for the Continental Congress, only 13 copies of the official printing of the United States Constitution are known, and this example was one of two remaining in private hands. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s. Photo credit: Ardon Bar-Hama

The Constitution was directly underbid by ConstitionDAO, a group of more than 17,000 people from around the world who banded together through Twitter within the last week to raise money to acquire the document, marking the largest crowdfunding initiative ever put together. DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization, a type of community-run business.

ConstitutionDAO tweeted Thursday night that thousands of people  had joined its process to buy the document at auction, “including museum curators and art directors who are now excited to keep learning. We were the first DAO Sothebys has ever worked with, but we’re sure we won’t be the last one.”

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 auction company for $30.8 million.

The auction marked the first time that Sotheby’s presented a unique, single-lot sale as part of its November Marquee Auction series, alongside its biggest sales of the year for Contemporary and Modern Art.

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