Bids Could Reach $20M for First-Edition Copy of US Constitution

Bids Could Reach $20M for First-Edition Copy of US Constitution A page of the first printing of the United States Constitution is displayed at the offices of Sotheby's auction house. A page of the first printing of the United States Constitution is displayed at the offices of Sotheby's auction house in New York. (Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images)

By Sandy Fitzgerald | Monday, 20 September 2021 08:20 AM

A first-edition printed copy of the U.S. Constitution described by Sotheby's auction house as being "rarer than the first printing of the Declaration of Independence" is going up for bids in New York with bidding expected to climb up to $20 million.

The document is one of 11 surviving copies from the first printing of the final text that was produced for the 1787 Constitutional Convention and Continental Congress, reports CNN. It is the last of the documents remaining in private hands.

Before the sale, the document is to be on exhibit at several locations in the United States, starting with the Sotheby New York galleries before heading to Chicago and Dallas.

The copy belongs to collector and philanthropist Dorothy Tapper Goldman, whose late husband, Howard acquired it. She said in a statement that it was "one of (his) dearest possessions" and that when it was passed on to her she felt "an incredible sense of responsibility to care for it, to share it, and to promote our nation's constitutional principles."

According to Sotheby's, the document for sale was one of a set that came after two earlier drafts, when the Constitutional Convention's official printers made 500 copies of the final "official edition" for the delegates.

Selby Kiffer, the auction house's senior books and manuscripts specialist, said the copy is "one of the most rare and coveted historical documents" ever to head to auction.

Kiffer is the same person who oversaw the sale of the document to the Goldmans in 1988 when they bought it from a private Philadelphia collector for $165,000. Since then, it's often been loaned to institutions including the U.S. Supreme Court and the New York Historical Society.

Sotheby's said the other 10 surviving first edition copies are in institutional collections.

The copy of the Constitution is part of a large sale of historical American documents from the Goldman collection. An early copy of the Articles of the Confederation and an official printing of the Stamp Act, among other rare historical documents are also being sold in live and online auctions beginning Nov. 23.

"While the Goldman Collection is probably best known for having the only copy in private hands of the Official Printing of the United States Constitution, which will be offered this November in our series of evening sales, the Collection includes many other significant historical documents that illuminate the history and continuing influence of the Constitution," said Sotheby's.

The sale of the Goldman collection will also include other rare copies of the Constitution, including ones that were signed by late Presidents Franklin Pierce and Millard Fillmore. The first part of the auction, being held live, is where the copy of the Constitution and other rare documents related to its creation will be sold. Other items from the collection are being featured in an online auction from Nov. 23-Dec. 2.

The sale's proceeds are going to the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, described as an organization established for "furthering the understanding of our democracy and how the acts of all citizens can make a difference."