George Washington’s annotated copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1789) set a new world auction record for an American book or historical document on June 22.
NEW YORK – George Washington’s annotated copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1789) set a new world auction record for an American book or historical document on June 22 as the near-pristine bound edition bearing the first President’s bold signature and his armorial bookplate sold for $9,826,500 at Christie’s.
“A number of bidders pursued this exceptional item,” said Chris Coover, senior specialist of books and manuscripts at Christie’s, “but in the end the successful bidder was a representative of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, the non-profit educational organization which owns and operates the historical site and museum of George Washington’s Virginia home. The unique book had been in the Mount Vernon library until 1876 and will soon be returned to that library.”
After 223 years, it remains in remarkable condition. Washington had added careful brackets and marginal notes in the margins of the Constitution. These notations highlight key passages concerning the President’s responsibilities, testifying to Washington’s careful, conscientious approach to his powers and responsibilities in his ground-breaking first term.
George Washington’s Constitution cover.
George Washington’s Constitution title page.
In a bustling saleroom, auctioneer John Hays, deputy chairman at Christie’s, opened the bidding at $1.3 million. After four minutes of bidding by multiple buyers in the room and on the phone, the winning bid was placed in the saleroom by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
Washington’s copy of the Acts of Congress was offered for sale by the Estate of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr. Upon Washington’s death, it remained in the library at Mount Vernon for many years until it was sold at auction in 1876. Later, it was acquired by the Heritage Foundation of Deerfield, Massachusetts, and sold again at auction in 1964, when it was acquired by the noted Americana collector Richard Dietrich.
Rare books and manuscripts relating to the most revered and respected American presidents have inspired record prices at Christie’s in recent years. Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights has far-surpassed the previous record for an American manuscript—an autographed manuscript of Lincoln’s 1864 election victory speech—which also sold at Christie’s New York for $3,442,500 in February 2009. An autograph letter written in 1787 by George Washington to his nephew Bushrod Washington, on the subject of the ratification of the Constitution, was the previous world auction record for a Washington document of $3,218,500 in December 2009.
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