Citing ‘Strong Institutional Interest,’ Sotheby’s Halted Its Sale of a Rare Copy of the U.S. Constitution Just Hours Before the Auction

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This week, Sotheby’s unexpectedly halted its auction of an original copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Anticipation for the dedicated event had been high as the document was scheduled to arrive on the block one year after a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) helped push another printing of the document to a headline-making, $43 million sale at the same auction house. 

But hours before bids were set to be collected on December 13, Sotheby’s called off the event, citing institutional interest in the manuscript. 

“The sale of the Official Edition of the Constitution has been postponed, following consultation with the consignor, to provide interested institutional parties with additional time to pursue fundraising efforts for a possible acquisition,” a spokesperson for the auction house explained in a statement shared with Artnet News. 

“Given the historical significance and importance of the Constitution…it is fitting the sale has attracted strong institutional interest,” the representative went on, noting that a “sale update will be communicated in due time.”

Official statement we received from Sotheby’s. pic.twitter.com/YVUcbdTTRq

— ConstitutionDAO2 (📜,📜) (@WAGBTC) December 13, 2022

 

The document, called the “Adrian Van Sinderen Constitution” after its longtime owner, was one of 500 copies printed in 1787 by John Dunlap and David Claypoole. Today, just 13 original iterations are known to exist, and of those, only two remain in private hands.

This particular version of the Constitution has not come to auction since 1894. At Sotheby’s, it carried a pre-sale estimate of $20 million to $30 million—a record figure for a historic manuscript.

Leading up to last year’s sale of the “Goldman Constitution”—the other original copy in a private collection—some 17,000 people joined together in an online crowdfunding campaign to purchase the document so that it could be put on public display. The group, ConstitutionDAO, ultimately raised $46 million worth of ETH cryptocurrency for the sale, but could only afford to bid $40 million if it hoped to have enough funds left over to preserve the manuscript.

After a back-and-forth bidding war, ConstitutionDAO was out-wagered by the hedge fund billionaire and founder of Citadel, Kenneth Griffin, who took home the object at a price of $43 million. 

We have paused fundraising so we can discuss next steps as a community

— ConstitutionDAO2 (📜,📜) (@WAGBTC) December 13, 2022

Another group of crypto crowd-funders, called ConstitutionDAO2, formed in advance of this month’s would-be sale with the idea of capitalizing on a second chance at acquiring a copy of the historic document. By the day of the planned event, the collective had raised $313,000 worth of crypto. Three members were sent to Sotheby’s to bid. 

Following the postponement, the group announced on Twitter that it has “paused fundraising so we can discuss next steps as a community.”

One of those steps may involve the DAO pivoting to target another copy of the Constitution, according to ARTnews. A historic documents dealer named Seth Kaller presented the group with an opportunity to purchase a version of the manuscript that came from the same printing press that produced the Adrian Van Sinderen copy.

ConstitutionDAO2 will likely put the prospect to a community-wide vote. 

 

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