A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.
After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.
The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.
The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.
The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.
“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.
The book was at Mount Vernon after the president’s death in 1799, and remained there until it was auctioned off in 1876, Agence France-Presse reported.
The manuscript was last auctioned in 1976 to collector Richard Dietrich, whose inheritors put the book on the auction block.
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.
The book is “coming back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” Bookout said. “This document has his (Washington’s) handwriting. It existed in his library when he died. It was in his library where it remained for about 50 years.”
Bookout said that this is the most expensive purchase in Mount Vernon history.
The Association receives no government subsidies, and the purchase relied solely on “patriotic Americans who are supporting us,” Bookout said.
The document will be put on display at the George Washington Library, which Mount Vernon plans to open in early 2013, Bookout said.
(Above: George Washington’s personal copy of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, which sold Friday at auction for nearly $10 million. Photo by Agence France-Presse.)