Washington’s Constitution to be auctioned
George Washington’s 223-year-old copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the latter of which includes 12 amendments, not the 10 that were eventually ratified, could fetch up to $3 million when it goes up for auction next week.
The documents, to be offered by Christie’s auction house June 22 in New York, are bound in a book that contains notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president, according to The Associated Press.
The copy of the Constitution, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, according to the wire service.
Thomas Lecky, head of Christie’s books and manuscripts department, said Washington’s documents will rate among the more notable items sold by the elite auction house, ranking with one of Shakespeare’s first folios, Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 victory speech, and three copies of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”
The book is in exceptional condition because of its high-quality paper and the care that its previous owners had shown for it, Christie’s senior specialist for books and manuscripts Chris Coover said.
“The paper hosting the articles that serve as a foundation for the country’s laws were thick and largely unmarked, save for Washington’s own notes, scribbled in pencil in the margins,” according to The Associated Press. “Most of the notes showed sections bracketed off and marked ‘president,’ indicating the duties and responsibilities Washington saw as his own.”
The book is roughly three-quarters of an inch thick with a bright brown calfskin cover. It not only features Washington’s signature but also personal notes, written in the margins of the text, and Washington’s personal bookplate displaying his family crest, according to the Washington Examiner.
The documents are unique, Coover and Lecky said, because Washington rarely wrote in the margins of his volumes, using a pencil to annotate the Constitution.
The estimated winning bid for the volume shown Tuesday is based on the final bid for a 1787 letter that Washington wrote about the Constitution, Coover said. Christie’s sold that document in 2009 for $3.2 million, Coover said.
The documents displayed Tuesday were part of the estate of an art collector and businessman from Chester Springs, Penn., who died in 2007.
After Washington’s death in December 1799, his copy of the Constitution remained at his Mount Vernon library until relatives sold it in 1876 along with about 100 other items. After that, Coover said, it fell into several different hands before Dietrich bought it at an auction in 1964.
William M. Ferraro, associate editor of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia, said records show that Washington’s Constitution fetched $13 the first time it was sold, and $1,150 when it sold again less than two decades later.
(Above: George Washington’s notes in the margin are seen as a specialist with Christie’s auction house the first president’s personal copy of the US Constitution and the proposed Bill of Rights Tuesday in Washington. Photo by The Associated Press.)