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Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin snaps up first-edition copy of US Constitution

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Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin shelled out $43.2 million for a rare first-edition copy of the U.S. Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction Thursday, outbidding a band of more than 17,000 cryptocurrency investors.

The 53-year old founder and chief executive of multibillion-dollar investment company Citadel put in the winning bid Thursday, beating out a last-ditch effort by the group to win the document. The crypto enthusiasts had crowdfunded more than $40 million worth of the cryptocurrency Ethereum though a spirited social media campaign earlier in the week. 

Griffin’s winning bid came after an eight-minute battle with the coalition of cryptocurrency fanatics, and it more than doubles the $20 million that the document was thought to be worth – setting a world auction record for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text, Sotheby’s said in a statement Friday. 

‘The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,’ Griffin said in the statement. 

‘That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate.’  

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin shelled out $43.2 million for a rare first-edition copy of the US Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction Thursday, outbidding a determined band of more than 17,000 cryptocurrency investors

Hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin shelled out $43.2 million for a rare first-edition copy of the US Constitution at a Sotheby’s auction Thursday, outbidding a determined band of more than 17,000 cryptocurrency investors

Griffin intends to lend the 1787 document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas – a museum with free admission founded a decade ago by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. 

The establishment already boasts a host of historical documents pertaining to American history, including Charles Willson Peale’s iconic portrait of first president George Washington.

The document, one of only 11 known surviving copies of the U.S. charter, was signed on September 17, 1787, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall by famed American founding fathers including Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. 

The 17,000-strong group of cryptocurrency investors, organized as ConstitutionDAO, had raised $40 million to try to buy the document but failed to secure the prize, the consortium said. 

Despite raising some $40 million in Ethereum in recent days, the group ultimately fell short at the auction.

A first edition copy of US constitution (pictured) has sold at auction for $43million after a mystery investor outbid crypto crowd-funders who raised $40million to buy the 1787 document 'for the people'

A first edition copy of US constitution (pictured) has sold at auction for $43million after a mystery investor outbid crypto crowd-funders who raised $40million to buy the 1787 document ‘for the people’

Hedge-fund manager Griffin has bashed cryptocurrency in the past. 

Last month in a recorded conversation at the Economic Club of Chicago, he told attendees that he does not use or own cryptocurrency due to its ‘regulatory uncertainty,’ adding that he ‘wished all this passion and energy that went into crypto was directed toward making the United States stronger.’ 

An avid art collector, Griffin made a splash when he paid Los Angeles music producer David Geffen $80 million for Jasper Johns’ 1959 work ‘False Start.’

At the time, it was the most expensive sale for any piece by a living artist. 

Last year, paid $100 million for a wall-size work by another American artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a 1982 piece called ‘Boy and Dog in a Johnnypump.’ 

Griffin later lent to the piece to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The original copy - one of just two still in private hands, in this case the US collector Dorothy Tapper Goldman - was estimated last September at between $15 and $20million

The original copy – one of just two still in private hands, in this case the US collector Dorothy Tapper Goldman – was estimated last September at between $15 and $20million

He’s also collected pricey pieces by Willem de Kooning, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Gerhard Richter, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.​ 

The original copy of the US Constitution, moreover, was estimated last September at between $15 and $20million. 

In the end it went for more than twice that sum, and in just eight minutes as bidders in the New York auction room but also on the phone from around the globe upped their offers. 

‘We didn’t get the constitution, but we made history nonetheless’ the group, ConstitutionDAO, said on Twitter after losing the bidding war to Griffin.

‘We broke the record for the largest crowdfund for a physical object and most money crowdfunded in 72h, which will of course be refunded to everyone who participated,’ it said. 

The group had offered participants a governance token, meaning they would have a say in where the document was displayed, rather than a fraction of the ownership. 

The item was one of only 11 known surviving copies of the US charter, signed on September 17, 1787 at Philadelphia's Independence Hall by America's founding fathers including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison

The item was one of only 11 known surviving copies of the US charter, signed on September 17, 1787 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall by America’s founding fathers including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison

The historical document sold in just eight minutes as bidders in the New York auction room but also on the phone from around the globe put in offers

The historical document sold in just eight minutes as bidders in the New York auction room but also on the phone from around the globe put in offers

Such groups have begun forming loose coalitions recently to raise funds to bid on expensive collectibles, including one group that pulled together $4 million for a rare Wu-Tang Clan album that had previously been owned by jailed hedge fund founder Martin Shkreli.   

Selby Kiffer, a manuscripts and ancient books expert at Sotheby’s, said in September that this copy was probably part of an edition of 500 printed the day before the signing, and likely came off the printing presses on the evening of September 16 1787.

The text, with its celebrated opening of ‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,’ went on to be ratified by the individual states, starting with Delaware in December 1787 and ending with Rhode Island in May 1790.

It officially became the United States’ founding charter on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth of 13 states to ratify it. 

Sotheby's auction house and auctioneer Quig Bruning staged the sale in New York on Thursday

Sotheby’s auction house and auctioneer Quig Bruning staged the sale in New York on Thursday

What happened to all the copies of the US Constitution?

The US constitution was adopted in Philadelphia in 1787 and submitted to the Constitutional Congress for review in September that year.

Almost 500 copies of the document were made at the first printing of the text later that year and given to the Congress’ delegates.

Thirteen copies were given to each of the 13 colonies of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina, for ratification.

Only 11 of those copies have survived today.  Nine of them are in museums, including two in the US’ Library of Congress, six in other institutions in the US and one in London. The other two are privately owned and held in the US.  

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

The document was ratified in 1788 following lengthy debates between factions of Federalists and anti-Federalists. 

But by June 1788, a minimum of nine of the 13 states had ratified the constitution. By the end of July, two more states had ratified the document and the process of organizing a new government started in earnest.  

Almost 500 copies of the constitution were made at the first printing of the text of the Constitution, as adopted in Philadelphia and submitted to the Continental Congress for review with only 11 of these surviving today

Almost 500 copies of the constitution were made at the first printing of the text of the Constitution, as adopted in Philadelphia and submitted to the Continental Congress for review with only 11 of these surviving today

The copy sold Thursday was one of the last privately owned versions and was held by Dorothy Tapper. 

It was last sold by Sotheby’s in 1998 when it went for $165,000 to Tapper’s wife, S. Howard Goldman, a New York real estate developer and private collector of American autographs, historical documents and manuscripts.   

Written on handmade paper with a very high cotton-rag content, NPR reported, the document is so well preserved the new owner could pick it up, hold it and read it. 

Meanwhile the master version is located in the National Archives Museum in Washington DC alongside the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. 

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

It has been amended 27 times since. 



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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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