Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2012 Issue

For Sale – George Washington's Personal Copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights

Washingtonsconstitution

George Washington's personal copy of the U.S. Constitution.

On June 22, Christie's in New York will be auctioning one of those amazing pieces of Americana one would not ever expect to see up for sale. It is George Washington's personal copy of the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. America's founding father and founding document brought together in one incredible piece. Unless George had a personal copy of the Declaration of Independence, it is hard to imagine what could be better than this for an Americana collector.

Washington did not say much about the Constitution during the contentious ratification period. It was not because he had no opinions. Washington understood that he played a unique role for America. He was virtually a symbol for the nation. He did not feel he should pronounce judgments on such matters as he did not want his stature to sway the people from making their own best decisions. Nonetheless, a private letter Washington wrote to his nephew, Bushrod Washington, auctioned in 2009 by Christie's, revealed his inner thoughts about the then proposed Constitution. He was a strong supporter. He realized that each state would have its own concerns, and compromise might not be easy, but he explained that the question was “is it best for the States to unite, or not to unite?” He looked at the threats the states faced and concluded that each trying to survive the world alone would be impossible. He even thought it likely that some would be forced to return to Britain for their support.

Washington recognized the Constitution could hardly be expected to be perfect, so in his letter to his nephew, he emphasized the people's ability to amend it. That has not been done often, but some key protections have been generated that way, such as the end of slavery and the right of women to vote. Washington concluded that while bad people might try to use the Constitution to do wrong, “neither my reasoning, nor my experience, has yet been able to discover the propriety of preventing men from doing good, because there is a possibility of their doing evil.”

Washington's copy of the Constitution was printed and bound for him in 1789, the first year of his presidency. It is one of just three copies so bound by New York bookbinder Thomas Allen. However, it is the only one with “President of the United States” on the cover. The other two copies were given to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and Attorney General John Jay.

Christie's describes this copy as being “in near-pristine condition, after 223 years.” There are some slight “defacements.” Washington has attached his bookplate to the endpaper. He has scribbled his name, “G Washington,” boldly on the title page. Washington has also bracketed some wording and added marginal notes, particularly regarding responsibilities of the president. George Washington took his responsibilities with the utmost seriousness. Come to think of it, Washington's personal notations only make this copy more desirable than an untouched copy. The deeper the connection with this truly remarkable man, the more important this document becomes.

Christie's has placed an estimate on the copy of $2 - $3 million. That is not cheap, though hardly expensive for a document of this significance. A Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold for $2.8 million. Honus was a great baseball player, and deserves more recognition from the fans than he receives. Nevertheless, Honus Wagner was no George Washington. We admire his play, but we revere Washington, the man.


Posted On: 2012-06-01 00:00
User Name: AE288399

"Come to think of it, Washington's personal notations only make this copy more desirable than an untouched copy."
Uh..... yea....
Ed Hoffman, Colu


Posted On: 2012-06-01 00:00
User Name: AE288399

Just a question --- where has this book been and who owns it?
Thanks,
Ed Hoffman, Columbus


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions