Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2008 Issue

<i>In The News</i>: Magna Carta Sells For $21.3 Million

The Magna Carta sold for over $21 million.


By Michael Stillman

It was the sale of this century, a one-item auction at Sotheby's in New York. At sale was one of the earlier versions of the Magna Carta, written by hand in 1297. The Magna Carta is the founding document of liberty, setting down basic rules which even the most powerful sovereigns of ancient England were forced to obey. There are but a handful of copies from the thirteenth century in existence, all but two still in England. Offered for sale was the only one in America (the other one outside of England resides in Australia), previously owned by Ross Perot's Perot Foundation. Perot purchased his copy in 1983 for $1.5 million.

When the hammer came down, the winning bid was a near record for the book and manuscript field - $21,321,000. As astounding as the number is, it may have been a slight disappointment, as it trended toward the lower end of the estimate of $20 - $30 million. Nevertheless, it was an impressive figure for an extraordinary document. Americans may be particularly pleased by the winner – David Rubinstein, an attorney and founder of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group. He served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy during the Carter administration.

Rubinstein immediately announced his intention to keep the document where it has been for the past 25 years - at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Apparently, he does not collect such material and has never even gone to an auction like this before. What with New York's busy traffic, he barely even made it to the auction room in time to bid. However, he was concerned that with exchange rates making items in America "cheap" for foreigners, this one American copy would end up leaving the country. Describing the document as a "beacon for freedom," Rubinstein decided to do his part to keep it in the U.S., and as a result, Americans will still be able to view a copy of this founding document in the nation's capital.

Another highly collectible and expensive (though not on the same level) document was sold at an obscure auction house in rural upstate New York. This story proves that gaining a reputation from one sale can lead to an opportunity to make a second. In this case, the book was a first edition of the Book of Mormon, printed in Palmyra, New York, in 1830. Back in September, small-town auctioneer Hessney Auction of Geneva was commissioned to clean out the home of a retired gentleman and came across a first edition Book of Mormon in the attic. That gentleman had purchased it many decades earlier and more or less forgot about it. That he was able to find one at the time is not terribly surprising as Geneva is just a stone's throw from Palmyra. That copy was sold by Hessney in September for $105,600.

News of that sale traveled all the way to Salt Lake City, Utah, where another individual had a first edition sitting on his bookshelf. This copy had been passed down from Harold Lindstrom, a music critic for the Deseret Morning News, who had purchased it in 1944. The owner noted the one hundred grand selling price and dispatched his copy to Geneva too. That copy was sold last month to an undisclosed California buyer for $97,900, slightly less than the previous copy for one in slightly less good condition. Reportedly, the new owner plans to fix the copy up a bit, stick it in his safe deposit box, and sell it in another year or so for a nice profit.

Rare Book Monthly

  • 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: SIGNED. 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, photo-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.
  • 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

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions