Published: June 26, 2012
On June 22 at Christie’s, George Washington’s annotated copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1789) sold for $9,826,500, setting a new world auction record for an American book or historical document. After 223 years, it remains in near-pristine condition, with Washington’s bold signature and his armorial bookplate. Remarkably, in the margins of the Constitution, Washington has added careful brackets and marginal notes.
These notations highlight key passages concerning the president’s responsibilities, testifying to Washington’s careful, conscientious approach to his powers and responsibilities in his groundbreaking first term.
Chris Coover, senior specialist of books and manuscripts, said, “A number of bidders competed pursued this exceptional item, but in the end the successful bidder was a representative of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, the nonprofit 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.”
In a bustling saleroom, auctioneer John Hays, deputy chairman, 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 and until it was sold at auction in 1876. Later, it was acquired by the Heritage Foundation of Deerfield, Mass., and sold again at auction in 1964, when it was acquired by the noted Americana collector Dietrich.
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