Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2021 Issue

A World Record Price Set for an item in the Books, Manuscripts, Maps and Ephemera Category

The U.S. Constitution

World records are born to die and Bill Gates’ purchase of Leonardo da Vinci’s Leicester Codex for $30.8 has been the gold standard in the category of books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera since 1994.  Recently a new world record price for any item within these categories was recently bid for what is believed to be one of the only copies of the first printing of the U. S. Constitution in private hands.  The new world record is $43,173,000.  Twelve other copies of this 1777 imprint are known.

 

Such a monumental outcome of course is certainly going to prompt inventory searches elsewhere and “what if” discussions among institutions that own one, possibly leading to decisions to convert their masterpieces into a budget to reimagine their library in the digital world. The American constitution was an act of pure genius and I suspect the founding fathers would come down on the side of the future. 

 

About the sale, Sotheby’s did a masterful job, enticing two or more bidders to throw away their budgets and ignore its thin auction history.  The interested parties simply had to dream a dream.   A group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts organized themselves as ConstitutionDAO to bid while winning bidder, Kenneth Griffin, a wealthy capitalist and self-made man, simply had to say to himself “I’m in.” Sotheby’s estimate had the feel of inspiration:  $15,000,000 to $20,000,000.  Too many involved in the field over the recent decades simply had to watch to see what would happen and I think they must have been united in their hope that the lot would sell for a large number.  And when it did, I think it’s accurate to describe the outcome as a major victory for the entire field.  And why?  The field has tens of thousands of important manuscript and printed documents that collectors and collecting institutions will well consider to buy or bid if they are offered.  But, simply stated, the field has been compressed by resistance at the top for the past 10 years but if auction realizations continue to run higher, every segment of the field will be encouraged to get out their best stuff and strut the strut.

 

Over the past 20 years we have seen paintings soar to the moon while exceptional, collectible paper, has generally been stable subject to appeal, rarity and condition.  Sotheby’s recent outcome suggests collectible paper may have a way to go.

 

For reference I include Sotheby’s now further updated Census of Copies:

 

1. Kenneth Griffin
2. Delaware Hall of Records
3. New Jersey State Library
4. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (Edmund Pendleton copy)
5. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division (James Madison)
6. Independence National Historical Park (George Washington copy)
7. American Philosophical Society Library (Benjamin Franklin copy inscribed to the Rev. Mr. Lathrop)
8. Historical Society of Pennsylvania
9. Gilder Lehrman Collection, New-York Historical Society (Benjamin Franklin copy inscribed to Jonathan Williams, Sr.; pages 1–4 only)
10. Private American Collection
11. Public Records Office, London, England
12. Scheide Library, Princeton University
13. Huntington Library

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Gonnelli:
    Auction 50
    Books, Autographs & Manuscripts
    March 6th-7th 2024
    Gonnelli: Cramer, [Picasso, Chagall , Miró], Trente ans d'activité. Starting price 4800€
    Gonnelli: Futurism
    Gonnelli: Avienus, Opera. 1488. Starting price 1200€
    Gonnelli: Vimont, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1642. Starting price 5000€
    Gonnelli: Goedart, Metamorphosis et historia naturalis insectorum. 1662.
    Gonnelli: Il Petrarcha con la spositione di M. Giovanni Andrea Gesualdo.
    Gonnelli: Poblacion, De usu astrolabi compendium.
  • Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] DAVID BURLIUK WITH ORIGINAL DRAWING and Signed twice. David Burliuk Rare ACA Gallery exhibition catalogue, undated. CA$400 – 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] KAWS: COMPANIONSHIP IN THE AGE OF LONELINESS. Text by Margaret Atwood. National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, 2019. $CA400 - 800
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [ART BOOK MONOGRAPH] LAWRENCE WEINER: POSTERS. Nova Scotia College of Art, Canada,1987. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: WILBUR SMITH: THE DARK OF THE SUN. Heinemann, UK, 1965. Signed First edition. CA$800 – 1,200
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: ROBERTSON DAVIES: LEAVEN OF MALICE. SIGNED Clark, Irwin, & Co., Canada. 1954. 1st edition. CA$400 – 600
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [THE NOTABLE TRAILS LIBRARY]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: THE TRIAL OF DR. X; ROE V. WADE; THE GALILEO AFFAIR; THE TRIAL OF BERNHARD GOETZ… CA$300 – 500
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [MILITARY FICTION]. 8 VOLUMES SOLD TOGETHER. INCLUDING: Canada's Royal Military College. REVIEW, THE STONE FRIGATE, A HISTORY OF THE RMC… CA$300 – 400
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: [WW1] CANADIAN (C.S.E.F.) SIBERIA 1918-1919 PHOTO ALBUM. With approximately 303 original official war photographs, postcards, and personal photographs. CA$8,000 – 10,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: HANS BELLMER: THE DOLL. 1995, 1st Ed. CA$150 – 300.
    Toronto Book Auctions
    ART-PHOTO-SIGNED-BOOKS-MILITARY(NON)FICTION
    March 6, 2024
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: FAN HO; HONG KONG YESTERDAY. ModernBooks edition, 2006. First edition. 4to. CA$300 – 600.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: TARYN SIMON: AN AMERICAN INDEX OF THE HIDDEN AND UNFAMILIAR. Hatje Cantz, Germany, 2012. Third edition. CA$600 – 1,000.
    Toronto Book Auctions, Mar. 6: BARBARA KRUGER PICTURE/READINGS. [Self-Published], 1978 First edition. CA$800 – 1,200.

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