See also : Autograph Manuscript Prints Ancient prints Renaissance Ancient England US Independence Development of USA US Civil War
Chronology : 18th century 1776 1780-1789 1820-1829 1860-1869
1297 The Magna Carta
2007 SOLD for $ 21.3M by Sotheby's
In 1215 the English barons revolted against King John. Financial and military demands had not prevented the scathing failures. In a situation of civil war, the king is forced to accept the Magna Carta by which the barons take control of the taxes.
The Magna Carta undergoes several modifications, because the political circumstances change. De facto rejected by King John, the Council of Barons, which was the forerunner of a parliamentary regime, was canceled in 1216 when the child Henry III acceded to the throne. In 1225 Henry III simplified the Magna Carta to facilitate its legal application.
The idea of a Parliament is gaining ground. Edward I takes the habit of summoning his advisers to make decisions concerning taxes and their collection. The operating rules are defined from 1283. It only remained to give force of law to the Magna Carta, which the king assisted by the Parliament solemnly does on October 12, 1297. It is stipulated in 1300 that a copy will be available in each county to be read four times a year.
17 manuscript copies from the 13th century have survived. 15 of them are in British institutions and one in the Australian Parliament.
The 17th document is a copy from 1297. It was bought in 1984 by the US billionaire Ross Perot, who entrusted it for display at the National Archives in Washington DC. It was sold for $ 21.3M by Sotheby's on December 18, 2007. Its new owner, David M. Rubenstein, returned it to the Archives for a new long-term loan. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1776 The Dunlap Broadside
2000 SOLD for $ 8.1M by Sotheby's
On July 4, 1776 the original manuscript of the Declaration was signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress and especially of this memorable session, and by Charles Thomson, secretary of the Congress. From then they had to act in a hurry to propagate the information in the thirteen colonies and to the army. They had no time left for preparing a clean copy of that draft amended during the debates or a fortiori to have it signed by the delegates who have just approved its text.
The manuscript is forwarded to John Dunlap, a printer operating in Philadelphia who is the usual contractor for official Congress documents. The broadside is printed during the night of July 4 to 5. The manuscript no longer matters : it is lost in this operation. Hancock organizes the distribution of the document while urging each recipient to disclose the text by any appropriate means.
The quantity of copies of the Dunlap broadside is not known although the figure of 200 seems fair. 25 copies survive. Almost all are in US institutions or museums.
One of them was found in 1989 by a bargain hunter in the backside of the frame of a torn painting that he had just bought. It was sold for $ 8.1M by Sotheby's on June 29, 2000, a record at the time for an Internet auction.
The buyer was the television producer Norman Lear supported by Internet entrepreneur David Hayden. Lear is not a collector. He immediately organized the Declaration of Independence Road Trip, a non-profit organization committed for displaying this historic document to as many people as possible through tours from city to city.
1787 US Constitution
2021 SOLD for $ 43M by Sotheby's
The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia from May 25, 1787 with George Washington as president. The final version of the US Constitution established by the committee was signed on September 17 by 39 of the 55 delegates.
The text was immediately edited in 500 copies for the use of delegates and congressmen. No public release was suitable at that time as it still had to be ratified by the federal Congress and the states. The 6-page 41 x 26 cm document printed by John Dunlap in partnership with David Claypoole includes in appendix the list of delegates who voted for it and a copy of Washington's letter urging the ratification by the Congress.
This original US Constitution is still in force today without fundamental changes. Such an unprecedented longevity is due to the remarkable political insight of the delegates who prepared it under the leadership of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton and to the foreseen capability to amend it as necessary.
Thirteen copies are surviving. One of them was sold for $ 43M from a lower estimate of $ 15M by Sotheby's on November 18, 2021, lot 1787. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This piece is the top highlight from the collection of S. Howard Goldman and his widow Dorothy. It is sold for the benefit of the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation whose aim is to advance the principles of America’s founding documents through educational programs. Mrs Goldman introduces her collection and educational purpose in the video shared by Sotheby's.
From the same collection, a copy of the first separate printing of the so called Bill of Rights was sold for $ 1.53M from a lower estimate of $ 700K by Sotheby's on November 23, 2021, lot 71.
This 3-page 34 x 21 cm document is dated August 24, 1789. It was prepared for proposing to the Congress a resolution of amendments to the US Constitution. Such articles had been desired by US citizens for preventing the government to infringe the basic individual rights. They were approved on September 26, 1789 and constitute the Third to Twelfth Amendments.
The underbidder for the US Constitution had been an organization just created for the express purpose of raising money to acquire it. They gathered more than 17,000 contributors who, in a matter of only weeks, raised more than $ 40 million, not enough against the winning bidder, the fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.
1787 Autograph Letter by Washington
2009 SOLD for $ 3.2M by Christie's
George Washington, the hero of the War of Independence, is one of the most active proponents of this reform. In a letter written to his nephew on November 9, he explains that power is not given to people but will always be with the people.
This autograph letter of four large pages was sold for $ 3.2M from a lower estimate of $ 1.5M by Christie's on December 4, 2009. It is illustrated in the pre sale release by AuctionPublicity.
1788 Virginia's Ratification
2022 SOLD for $ 3.1M by Sotheby's
The Virginia Ratification Convention opened on June 2, 1788, opposing some of the best and keenest politicians. The Constitution is ratified by the ninth state, New Hampshire, on June 21. Although Virginia was still debating at that date, it was the work of the Virginian delegates that was epoch making and ensured the exceptional durability of the US Constitution.
The Virginian Federalists led by James Madison were countered by the Anti-Federalists led by Patrick Henry and George Mason fearing for a federal encroachment to personal and state liberties. Madison managed a compromise in a remarkable spirit of concession supported by fellow Virginian George Washington. The Constitution was approved by Virginia on June 25 with a request for 20 alterations constituting a Declaration of Rights.
Virginia"s official proceedings were prepared on June 27 in 12 manuscript copies sent to the other states. One of them, a 13 page recto verso document 37 x 22 cm with a final blank page was sold for $ 3.1M by Sotheby's on July 21, 2022, lot 1005.
The Virginian Declaration of Rights went to be the core of the Bill of Rights of the first ten federal amendments submitted under the leadership of Madison to the Congress in September 1789 and finally approved in December 1791 as an addition to the US Constitution.
Madison was one of the greatest constitutionalists of all time. In supporting the way forward proposed by his opponents, he had ensured that the Constitution could be changed to get rid of imperfections through a formally controlled process. That process perdures until the current day US Constitution.
1789 Acts of Congress
2012 SOLD for $ 9.8M by Christie's
The founders of the nation are now trying to redefine the delicate balance between the executive and legislative branches while considering also the need for autonomy of each state. Their work is outstanding, since the system defined between 1787 and 1789 is still the foundation of the US law.
George Washington is one of the key figures in this success. On June 22, 2012, Christie's sold for $ 9.8M his personal copy of the main acts of Congress, lot 1. It gathers the Constitution, various acts including the creation of major Executive Departments, and the first draft of twelve articles known as the Bill of Rights for an effective and pragmatic definition of freedoms.
This collection was a working document for the new President. It is also a much valuable autograph : signed on the title page, it includes handwritten notes in the margin of several acts.
These 53 sheets 30 x 19 cm from 1789 are assembled in a binding probably made in the same year. They are in excellent condition.
Please watch the video shared by Fox News :
1824 Facsimile of the US Declaration of Independence
2021 SOLD for $ 4.4M by Freeman's
The duplicate signed by the 56 delegates in early August, 1776 was becoming a symbol of the American liberty. Unfortunately it was badly deteriorating. In 1820 the Secretary of State and future President John Quincy Adams commissioned the printer William J. Stone to print an exact facsimile.
The engraving was made with a wet ink process by which some of the original ink was transferred to a copper plate which was etched. The engraving was completed and dated in 1823 and the printing was made in 1824 in 200 copies on 80 x 70 cm vellum. Approximately fifty are located.
Two copies were presented to one of the three surviving original signers, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, former delegate and senator of Maryland, aged 87. They were presented by Carroll to his grandson-in-law in 1826 after the death of the last two other signers, former Presidents John Adams and Jefferson.
One of them, inscribed by Carroll, went in 1844 to the Maryland Historical Society. The grandson-in-law copied this inscription on the other document with a reference to the autographed Carroll copy.
This second Carroll copy was discovered in a Scottish attic by Cathy Marsden, specialist of rare books at the Edinburgh auction company Lyon and Turnbull, and transferred for auction to their sister company Freeman's based in Philadelphia. It was sold by Freeman's on July 1, 2021 for $ 4.4M from a lower estimate of $ 500K, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by Freeman's.
A historic discovery! Our sister auction house, Freeman’s, is pleased to announce the sale of a signer’s copy of William J. Stone’s 1823 printing of the #DeclarationofIndependence recently rediscovered in Scotland by Lyon & Turnbull. Find out more: https://t.co/RiosDcVn4k pic.twitter.com/xSL20pV2Do— Lyon & Turnbull (@LyonandTurnbull) June 24, 2021
1864 Emancipation Proclamation
2010 SOLD for $ 3.8M by Sotheby's
At the promised date, January 1, 1863, Lincoln proclaimed an executive order abolishing slavery in the ten states on which he had no control.
Of course, this statement was not sufficient to end the US Civil War. In mid 1864, charity gatherings organized by the US Sanitary Commission are held everywhere to support the Union troops.
The President, always ready for personal commitment, then accepts the project of the authorized edition of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the initiatives to raise funds.
The document consists of a title and 52 lines of text printed in a single page on a watermarked Whatman paper sheet 55 x 44 cm. 48 copies bear the three autograph signatures of Abraham Lincoln, of the Secretary of State William Seward and of John Nicolay, private secretary to the President.
This strategy confirms that in the mind of Lincoln the end of slavery is the main issue of the Civil War. Without alienating the states loyal to the Union, it gave such a boost to the slaves that their emancipation had no more obstacles, entering into the constitution through the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.
In the next century the Kennedy brothers are considering new advances for civil rights. The murder of the President does not slow down the ardor of his brother. In 1964, Robert Kennedy bought at auction at Parke-Bernet a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln and Seward.
This ex Kennedy document was sold for $ 3.8M on December 10, 2010 by Sotheby's, Parke-Bernet's successor.
Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's :
1864 Answer by Lincoln to the Children's Petition
2008 SOLD for $ 3.4M by Sotheby's
The President received a great deal of mail which was carefully handled by his secretaries. Amidst thousands of requests for favors, he was moved by a letter forwarded to him in early April 1864 by Charles Sumner, senator from Massachusetts, more radical than him for an immediate emancipation.
The document is a children's petition prepared and annotated by Mrs Mann, a widow who had founded a school in Concord MA. 195 boys and girls under 18 wrote their names under a simple and short text : "Children's Petition to the President asking him to free all the little slave children in this country".
The President prepares an autograph draft, which is kept at the Library of Congress. He replies to Mrs Mann : "Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He wills to do it ".
This answer is very important to the President, who himself copies his draft onto an 8 x 5 inch letterhead page of the Executive Mansion in Washington. Dated April 5, 1864, the letter is addressed to Mrs Mann to whom it is transmitted through the good care of the Senator. It was sold for $ 3.4M by Sotheby's on April 3, 2008, lot 85.
On April 20, Mrs Mann thanks the President for his "sweet words to the children" for whom she was going to have facsimiles prepared, replacing her name as a precaution with the identification of the place of origin, Concord MA. She insists in her abolitionist demand by courteously calling out to the President : "You who can hasten it must be the happiest of men, for in saving the colored man you will feel that you are doing equal service to the white man".
1864 Re-election Speech of President Lincoln
2009 SOLD for $ 3.4M by Christie's
In August the fall of Atlanta happened, and supporters of Lincoln saw that a military victory was possible. On November 8, Lincoln won the election, one of the most important in the history of his country : his anti-slavery ideas would now be able to overcome. The end of the war came also very soon afterwards.
On 10 November 1864, at the White House, the reelected president made an important speech to celebrate his political victory. The paper he wrote with his hand for reading it on that day was sold for $ 3.4M by Christie's on 12 February 12, 2009. Those four pages in excellent condition were owned by the heirs of Lincoln before going into a library that sold them at that auction.This sale was made on the very day of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln, who was born on 12 February 1809.