We the people: Crypto crowdfund gets outbid on Constitution copy

More than 17,000 crypto contributors with a median donation of $206 lost a bid to a private buyer who paid $43.2m.

A rare first printing of the United States Constitution sold at Sotheby’s New York Thursday night for $43.2m – the highest price ever fetched at auction for an historical document –  to a buyer who beat out a group of cryptocurrency enthusiasts who still claimed a victory for crowdfunding.

A Sotheby’s spokesperson late on Friday afternoon identified the buyer as entrepreneur Kenneth Griffin, Founder and CEO of Citadel, a hedge fund based in Chicago, Illinois. Griffin says he plans to loan the Constitution to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas for public display.

“The US Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Griffin said in a statement. “I am pleased that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which always offers free admission, will be the first venue to display our country’s foundational document.”

The first printing of the Constitution – one of only 13 surviving copies that are privately owned – sold for more than double Sotheby’s top estimate range of $20m. The winning bid also marked a sharp appreciation from the $165,000 the document sold for back in 1988 to the late real estate developer and collector of American documents and manuscript, the late S Howard Goldman.

All proceeds for the sale will go to a foundation established by Goldman’s widow Dorothy.

The sale was being closely watched not only for the historical significance of the document, but for the hype surrounding a cryptocurrency crowdfunding group, ConstitutionDAO.

In the run-up to the auction, the group broke records for the most money crowdfunded in less than 72 hours.

DAO, which stands for decentralised autonomous organisation, is an online community that uses blockchain technology to allow members to vote on decisions.

“While this wasn’t the outcome we hoped for, we still made history tonight,” the group said in a statement posted to Twitter. “We have educated an entire cohort of people around the world – from museum curators and art directors to our grandmothers asking us what ‘eth’ is when they read about us in the news- about the possibilities of web3,” the note read.

According to the statement, there were 17,437 contributors with a median donation size of $206.26.

Although the group raised $47m or 11,6000 of the cryptocurrency Ether, it lost the sale because it did not have enough reserves required to maintain and care for the piece.

The funds were raised on the crowdfunding website Juicebox. ConstitutionDAO said participants will get their money back minus the so-called gas fees it takes to process the transaction.

If they had won the bid, those who had donated funds would have become DAO members but would not have a stake in the document, according to the ConstitutionDAO website.

“It’s fitting that we use this technology to honor and protect the greatest historical tool for human governance: the US Constitution,” the website said.

The document is one of just 13 copies of the official edition of the Constitution surviving from a printing of 500 issued for submission to the Continental Congress and for the use of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, according to Sotheby’s.

The winning bid was $41m with the final price of $43.2m totalling overhead and other fees, the auction house said.

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