Rare first-edition copy of US Constitution sells for over $43M

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A rare first-edition copy of the United States Constitution was sold at auction Thursday for a record-breaking $43.2 million. 

The first printing of the final text of the Constitution was nabbed by Brooke Lampley, Sotheby’s chairman and worldwide head of sales for global fine art, after an 8-minute battle Thursday night, according to Sotheby’s, which held the auction. 

It sold for more than double its $15 million – $20 million estimate "setting a world auction record for any book, manuscript, historical document, or printed text," according to Sotheby's. 

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"The Constitution needs little introduction as one of the most influential and significant historical documents ever conceived," Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior international specialist for books and manuscripts, said in a statement, adding that the sale marked a "monumental and historic occasion."

A copy of the first printing of the final text of the United States Constitution. ( Ardon Bar-Hama)

It was the first time the document – one of just 13 copies of the Official Edition of the Constitution — publicly appeared at action for over three decades. 

"This is the very first appearance of the final text of the Constitution, now the longest continuing charter of government in the world," Sotheby's said. 

The printing was last purchased from Sotheby's by S. Howard Goldman in 1988 for $165,000. After his death in 1997, it remained in the hands of his widow, Dorothy Tapper Goldman, who spent 25 years collecting constitutional documents, according to Sotheby's. 

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

Her 42-piece collection was cultivated into an exhibition called "Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions" at the New York Historical Society from February 2020 through March 2021. Afterward, it was moved to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. 

A copy of the first printing of the final text of the United States Constitution.  (Ardon Bar-Hama)

"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 U.S. Constitution and the fact that it remains the force that binds this nation together," David Brigham, CEO of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. 

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"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," he said. "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." 

According to Sotheby's, proceeds from the auction benefits the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation. 

The foundation aims to advance the principles of America’s founding documents through educational programs for students "so that our young Americans can be better informed about the founding of our republic and the citizens who created the founding documents," according to Sotheby's.

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