Sotheby's to auction rare printing of U.S. Constitution

STORY: This is the first appearance of this copy of the Constitution at auction since 1894," said Austin. "Last year, we had great success with another copy, which was one of only two, this being the other copy that is available for private ownership. That set a world record last year."

In November 2021, the other first-edition printed copy of the U.S. Constitution sold for $43.2 million, a record price for a printed text.

Copies from that first printing, bearing no signatures and believed to have originally numbered about 500, were also furnished to delegates of the Constitutional Convention itself.

"When this was printed in 1787, there were perhaps 500 copies that were done," said Austin. "The only copies that survived are 13 copies that we know about....There's only two that are in private hands, this being one of them."

The Constitution's first printing is considerably rarer than even the first edition of the 1776 Declaration of Independence, Sotheby's said.

The first constitutional printing contains only the seven original articles laying out the framework for the U.S. national government and its powers, its relationship to the states and procedures used to subsequently ratify and amend the Constitution itself.

The Bill of Rights, consisting of the first 10 amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, are not included.

Although not signed, the six-page document going up for sale includes a list of the Constitutional Convention delegates attesting to its adoption in 1787 and a letter of submission from George Washington, who presided over the convention, to the Continental Congress.

Regarded as the oldest, continuing codified government charter in the world, the U.S. Constitution was devised to replace the young nation's first, largely inefficient charter, the Articles of Confederation.

It was ratified by the states in 1788 and went into effect the following year. It has since been amended 27 times.

The auction house estimates its value at $20 million to $30 million.

"This is one of the foundational documents of American democracy," said Austin. "So I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's priceless.''