The sale of a rare copy of the US Constitution has been halted by Sotheby’s just hours before it was due in auction. Sotheby’s have cited “strong institutional interest” as their motivation for postponing the sale, saying that they wish to “provide interested institutional parties with additional time to pursue fundraising efforts”.
The abrupt announcement comes after a dramatic build up to the sale. Last year, the “Goldman Constitution” was sold at the same auction house – named after its former owner, Dorothy Tapper Goldman. A group of crypto crowd-funders emerged in the lead up to that sale, called ConstitutionDAO. The group raised $46 million of ETH cryptocurrency to purchase the historic item; however, they could only afford to bid $40 million as additional funds were needed for the preservation of the manuscript. In a remarkable sale, billionaire and found of Citadel Kenneth Griffin just outbid the group, paying $43 million. Sotheby’s was optimistic about the public reaction to the sale this year, with their Global Head of Books and Manuscripts, Richard Austin, saying that “we hope the remarkable opportunity to acquire one of two privately owned copies of the Constitution will inspire a similar response that galvanised the public last year.”
The announcement of the sale of another constitution certainly did attract public attention. An unaffiliated group named ConstitutionDAO2 formed, with the aim of purchasing the historic document. Matt Wyatt, one of the people involved with setting up ConstitutionDAO2, told ARTnews, that “we wanted to show that we still care about this democratizing tech and to show how far we’ve come […] We want to show people that we’re serious and committed.” The group has also said that the purchase of a document such as this is intended to be a starting point for a “collection of civic artifacts that are totally run by the people” and called last year’s efforts a “cultural moment”.
However, it seems that the group is unlikely to have an opportunity to purchase the document from Sotheby’s this year. It is unclear at this stage whether the sale has simply been postponed, or whether the document will be sold privately to the interested institution. A representative for Sotheby’s said that “given the historical significance and importance of the Constitution… it is fitting the sale has attracted institutional interest” and that a “sale update will be communicated in due time”. ConstitutionDAO2 are not too despondent, however, and have already found another possible opportunity to purchase the document. Wyatt updated ARTnews on the group’s activities, saying that, “what’s exciting is that we’ve actually had a historical documents expert [Seth Kaller] come in and present up with an opportunity to buy a different copy of the Constitution […] It’s a copy off the same printing press that was used to print the copy that we were going to bid on, but this one is significantly more capital efficient and more effective for presentations.”