There’s a revolutionary auction coming up for US history buffs! One of only 11 known copies of the US Constitution — and the only one which currently remains in private hands — is coming up for auction this November. Philanthropist Dorothy Tapper Goldman is preparing to sell the copy that she has owned since 1997 when she inherited it after the death of her husband, Harry Goldman. As reported by ARTNews, Harry’s purchase was made in 1988 at Sotheby’s for $165,000, sold at that time by a collector from Philadelphia. Considering that the document is expected to fetch somewhere between $15–20 million, it seems like one investment that paid off, even as democracy itself has become rather cheap these days.
Proceeds from the sale are intended to endow the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, which has funded an annual Guggenheim Fellowship in Constitutional Studies since 2007. Constitutional education seems particularly useful given the current climate, where a vast swath of US citizens believe that the Right to Free Speech entitles them to, for example, say anything they want and not get punched in the face (it does not). But, of course, a nuanced reading of the Constitution is difficult to fit on a protest sign or scream out in an unmasked, disease-spreading throng attempting to overthrow the Capitol building.
This 1787 edition reflects the final text of the Constitution, the same that was printed for submission to the Continental Congress. Originally, almost 500 copies were printed; now only 11 are known to still exist. The copy will be sold at Sotheby’s during a New York modern and contemporary art evening sale, where presumably most people will be masked — and believe that somehow American democracy still has a chance of successful debate in an epoch where the average reader can’t get through the Bill of Rights without checking their phone 20 times. While the truism states that you can’t put a price on freedom, this auction promises to demonstrate that you very much can put a price on the Constitution — which, perhaps, suggests that they are not actually the same thing at all.
In addition to the Constitution copy, another 80 historical documents from the Goldman collection will be part of the November auction. A second group of rare works from the philanthropists’ private collection will also be auctioned later in an online sale from November 23–December 2. Starting this month, the copy of the Constitution will go on view in Los Angeles. After that, it will travel to Chicago and Dallas before returning to New York for a final exhibition from November 19–22. Fingers crossed that some art world provocateur has the brass to buy it and set it on fire, to match the actual state of the union.