| 22 April 2024, Monday |

Sotheby’s to Auction Rare First Printing of U.S. Constitution

An extremely rare official first-edition printed copy of the U.S. Constitution, as adopted by America’s founding fathers at a convention in Philadelphia in 1787, will be put up for bid by Sotheby’s in mid-November, the auction house announced on Friday.

Sotheby’s, announcing the upcoming sale of the document on the 234th anniversary of its signing by delegates to the Constitutional Convention, estimated its value at $15 million to $20 million.

It last sold for $165,000 in 1988, when it was acquired by the late S. Howard Goldman, a New York real estate developer and private collector of American autographs, historical documents and manuscripts.

His wife, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, is offering it for sale, with all proceeds going to the charitable foundation established in her name to further the public’s understanding of democracy, the auction house said.

The document is one of just 11 known existing copies – the only one still in private hands – from the official first printing of the final text of the Constitution, as adopted in Philadelphia and submitted to the Continental Congress for review, Sotheby’s said.

Copies from that first printing, bearing no signatures and believed to have originally numbered about 500, were also furnished to delegates of the Constitutional Convention itself. Two surviving copies are housed at the Library of Congress.

The Constitution’s first printing is considerably rarer than even the first edition of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Sotheby’s said.

The first constitutional printing contains only the seven original articles laying out the framework for the U.S. national government and its powers, its relationship to the states and procedures used to subsequently ratify and amend the Constitution itself.

The Bill of Rights, consisting of the first 10 amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, are not included.

Although not signed, the six-page document going up for sale includes a list of the Constitutional Convention delegates attesting to its adoption in 1787 and a letter of submission from George Washington, who presided over the convention, to the Continental Congress.

Regarded as the oldest, continuing codified government charter in the world, the U.S. Constitution was devised to replace the young nation’s first, largely inefficient charter, the Articles of Confederation.

It was ratified by the states in 1788 and went into effect the following year. It has since been amended 27 times.

Sotheby’s said the Goldman copy would be offered for bid at a New York evening sales event on a November date to be announced, marking the first time a manuscript or historical document will be presented for auction along with major pieces of fine art.

“The Goldman Constitution ranks as one of the most rare and coveted historical documents that has ever come to auction,” Selby Kiffer, senior specialist in Sotheby’s books & manuscripts department, said in a statement.

  • Reuters