Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2022 Issue

Sotheby’s to Offer Precursor and Direct Influence on the Bill of Rights

5880cd01-f6ef-4d0b-b889-e1000c4c5f4e

Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

New York, 30 June 2022 - To commemorate the anniversary of America’s Independence on July 4, 1776, Sotheby’s announces a copy of Virginia’s Official Ratification of the United States Constitution as a highlight of Sotheby’s Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana auction on 21 July in New York. Within its proposed amendments, this official record of Virginia’s ratification contains the nucleus of the what would become the United States Bill of Rights – one of the three founding documents of the nation, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. On offer with an estimate of $3/5 million, the document is one of just three surviving copies from the original set of twelve, each intended to be sent to the other state governors or legislatures in order to gain support for a national Bill of Rights. The present copy is one of only two in private hands, and comes to auction for the very first time after being rediscovered 30 years ago.

 

Signed in June 1788, the manuscript placed the fledgling United States on a sure and secure footing, and represents the official record of the final, critical days of The Virginia Ratification Convention—also known as the Virginia Federal Convention. The Convention was called in response to the recommendation of the Philadelphia Convention that the proposed Constitution be submitted to a Convention of Delegates for their assent and ratification. The Philadelphia Convention had decreed that Constitution would become the supreme law of the United States after approval by only nine of the thirteen states. Ten days before the Virginia Convention first convened, eight other states had ratified the Constitution, making the timing of the Virginia’s deliberation especially critical.

  

The official engrossed and attested copy of Virginia’s official ratification of the United States Constitution signed by the President and Secretary of the Convention, together with two sets of amendments to the Constitution proposed by the Virginia Convention and selected highlights will be on public view at Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries from 12 – 20 July, ahead of the live auction on 21 July in New York.

 

The auction follows Sotheby’s historic sale of the first printing of the United States Constitution, which achieved $43.2 million in November 2021 and marked the most valuable historical document ever sold at auction, as well as the highest price ever achieved at auction for any book, manuscript or printed text.

  

The present document has remained in the collection of renowned manuscript collector David Karpeles for more than 30 years and will be sold to benefit the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums, comprising the largest private collection of important original manuscript documents in the world.

 

History of the Document

  

In June 1788, The Virginia Ratification Convention was called to meet in Richmond, Virginia. The 170 delegates present included the flower of the founding fathers from the Old Dominion: James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, George Wythe, Edmund Randolph, James Monroe, Benjamin Harrison, John Marshall, and John Blair among them. On the first day of the Convention, Edmund Pendleton was unanimously elected president, and John Beckley was appointed secretary. The present document is signed by both Pendleton and Beckley.

  

While the Convention approved the Constitution unconditionally, it also submitted to Congress and to the other states a lengthy series of proposed amendments, whose ideas and concepts are echoed unmistakably throughout the Bill of Rights. Of the first ten amendments to the Constitution I, II, III, IV, V, and VIII have their direct antecedents – and often their precise wording – in the present manuscript, while the others animate and confirm the sentiments expressed by the Virginia Convention.

 

Virginia was not the only state to ratify the Constitution with the understanding that amendments providing for a Bill of Rights would be adopted almost immediately – the various ratifying conventions put forth a substantial number of proposals, ranging from South Carolina's four to New York's fifty-seven. But it is Virginia’s proposed “Declaration or Bill of Rights” that is most closely reflected in the federal Bill of Rights enshrined in the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

  

Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s International Senior Specialist for Books & Manuscripts, commented, "Just in time for the 4th of July holiday, we’re pleased to bring this exceptional piece of American history to auction. This copy of Virginia’s Official Ratification of the United States Constitution holds immense significance, as it includes an enumerated proposal for a Declaration of Rights. This integral document provided a precursor for the Bill of Rights – one of the nation’s three founding documents – and solidified the nation’s future upon Virginia’s ratification. Following the record-breaking auction of a first printing of the United States Constitution, this document also showcases a critical turning point in early American history."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> George Washington ADS, One of the Earliest in His Hand, A Survey from 1752, the Same Year He Inherited Mount Vernon.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Rare JFK Signed Check & Transmittal Letter During Campaign for 1956 VP Nomination, Both BAS Slabbed; Possibly A Unique Combo!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Daniel Boone Signed Receipt as VA Delegate; During His 1st of 3 Terms, Boone Was Kidnapped by British Forces Gunning for Gov. T. Jefferson & Other Legislators.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Benjamin Franklin Signed Receipt for “Pennsylvania Gazette,” Important & Beautifully Displayed
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lincoln & His Civil War Cabinet: 8 Signatures, Beautifully Presented!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> G.A. Custer ALS from Fort Lincoln, Dakota Territory to Capt. Yates, Who Also Died at Little Bighorn, Re: Acquiring “good horses” from Kentucky for 7th Cavalry.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Jefferson Davis ALS: “the negroes are humble and generally inclined to cling to their masters…neither crop or stock could be protected from their thieving” – Incredible!
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Lee Harvey Oswald Signed Letter: “if we finally get back to the states…maybe we’ll…settle in Texas,” Warren Commission Exhibit.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Babe Ruth First Edition Biography Signed Just Months Before His Death, Excellent Signature!
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Rare Autographs, Manuscripts & Books<br>August 17, 2022</b>
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> “B Arnold” ANS on Pre-Revolutionary War Promissory Note Dating From His Days as a New Haven Merchant
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Bob Dylan Signed LP “Blonde on Blonde” with Jeff Rosen COA.
    <b>University Archives, Aug. 17:</b> Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio Signed Checks, Handsomely Displayed.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions