(New throughout, adds details, background, comments)
By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK, June 22 George Washington's personal
copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for $9.8
million at auction o n F riday, setting a record for any American
book or historic document.
Bidders at Christie's New York salesroom and others on the
telephone competed for the first U.S. president's signed,
gold-embossed volume dating to 1789, which had a pre-sale
estimate of up to $3 million.
The non-profit Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union,
which maintains the historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia
that was Washington's home and is now open to the public, was
the successful bidder.
"The unique book has been in the Mount Vernon library until
1876, and will soon be returned to that library," said Chris
Coover, senior specialist of books and manuscripts at
The bound volume was Washington's personal copy of the Acts
of Congress and is noteworthy for his bold signature marking it
as his own.
The Acts of Congress include the Constitution, whose
preamble promises to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to
ourselves and our Posterity," and the Bill of Rights, the first
10 amendments to the Constitution, which establish such
fundamental liberties as the right to free speech, press,
assembly and religion.
Christie's described the book as being in near-pristine
condition after 223 years. It was specially printed for
Washington in 1789, his first year in office as president.
The margins include Washington's handwritten brackets and
notations highlighting key passages concerning the president's
The Acts of Congress volume was sold from Washington's
library at Mt. Vernon in 1876 and eventually bought at auction
by collector Richard Dietrich in the 1960s. It was being sold
by the family's estate.
Similar volumes created for Thomas Jefferson, the first
Secretary of State and third U.S. president, and Attorney
General John Jay, are in Indiana's Lilly Library and a private
Rare books and manuscripts have achieved impressive prices
in recent years.
An autographed manuscript of Lincoln's 1864 election victory
speech sold for $3.4 million in February 2009, which set a
record for an American manuscript at the time. A 1787 letter
written from Washington to his nephew on the subject of the
ratification of the Constitution fetched $3.2 million in
(Editing by Patricia Reaney, Xavier Briand and David Gregorio)