An Original Copy of US Constitution Sells for $43.2 Million, Becoming Most Expensive Document Ever Sold

Last Thursday, an original first printing of the US Constitution fetched a $43.2 million winning bid at Sotheby’s, setting the record for the most expensive document or book ever sold at auction. The document is one of 13 known copies and one of only two held in private collections.

Also notable was the loser in a bidding war for an artifact that had previously been estimated at just $15 to 20 million in value: ConstitutionDAO, a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) powered by blockchain technology that rallied together thousands of cryptocurrency enthusiasts to crowdfund the buy.

“A DAO is an internet community with a shared bank account,” Cooper Turley, a 25-year-old investor who has created several DAOs, explained on CNBC. In October, another DAO made news for purchasing Wu-Tang Clan’s unreleased album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for $4 million, after the federal government wrested it from disgraced pharmaceutical executive and securities fraudster Martin Shkreli. Despite ConstitutionDAO’s recent failure, the group’s widely publicized undertaking has generated buzz around the possibilities DAOs present for more democratic and collective means of ownership.

The Official Edition of the Constitution, the First Printing of the Final Text of the Constitution (Photo by Ardon Bar-Hama; courtesy Sotheby’s)

And who was ConstitutionDAO outswanked by? The winning bid was placed by Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of hedge fund behemoth Citadel Advisors. The Museum of Modern Art board member has also made hefty donations to the Art Institute of Chicago, Whitney Museum, Florida’s Norton Museum of Art, and the Shed at Hudson Yards. A prolific collector, the Constitution’s $43.2 million price tag pales in comparison to the $500 million sum he doled out to acquire Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17A” (1948) and “Interchanged” (1955) by Willem de Kooning in 2016.

Griffin is also a vocal crypto skeptic, leaving one to wonder if he was goaded by a motley community of socialists and trolls into going over budget just to prove a point. He recently told Bloomberg, “I wish all this passion and energy that went to crypto was directed toward making the United States stronger.” Impassioned, he continued, “Let’s face it — it’s a Jihadist call that we don’t believe in the dollar.” For now, Griffin, who once opined that the rich had “insufficient influence” on the political process, has reaffirmed the power of good old-fashioned wealth to own and control access to American democratic ideals — a practice he regularly and vociferously engages in as a major donor to Republican campaigns.

This copy of the Constitution was last sold in 1988 to real estate developer S. Howard Goldman for $165,000. His widow, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, also a collector and a retired professor and teacher, offered up for sale not only the record-breaking Constitution but also an array of state constitutions, an early copy of the Articles of Confederation, an official printing of the Stamp Act, and a rare print of the Bill of Rights.

Selby Kiffer, an international senior specialist in books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s who also handled this Constitution’s last sale in 1988, estimates that this copy was among around 500 published at the same time. It was printed by hand by Philadelphia printers John Dunlap and David Claypoole, and Kiffer guesses that it was probably printed on the night of September 16, 1787. Totaling six pages in length, the document includes not only the text of the Constitution but also the roster of delegates who voted for the Constitution and the resolution accepting it. These print copies are remarkable not only for their “primacy” but also because they would have been produced for delegates like James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

Proceeds from the sale of Goldman’s collection will support the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, established in 2018 and “dedicated to furthering the understanding of our democracy and how the acts of all citizens can make a difference.” We can only hope that this non-profit’s motives are less cynical than the proud new Constitution owner’s.

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