RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — For the first time in decades, a privately held original print of the United States Constitution has been put on display for the public.
Just 14 known copies of the official printing of the Constitution are still in existence. Two copies of the first printing remain in private hands.
One of those was put on display for one day at the North Carolina Museum of History before it heads to public auction next week. That copy has been privately held by the same family for 125 years. This is its first public display in 35 years.
“It’s just exciting to think that this is a document that’s over 230 years old that governs our country. So, it’s just a phenomenal opportunity to have it at the museum and we are so pleased and so grateful to Sotheby’s for offering it to us on loan,” said Ken Howard, director of the museum.
The document was displayed next to North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights. It is currently held in the permanent collection of the State Archives of North Carolina. The Bill of Rights was stolen at the end of the Civil War and recovered in a 2003 FBI sting. Howard said this is likely the first time both documents have been together in years.
Howard said the museum had to take careful steps to ensure the documents remain in their best possible condition.
“North Carolina’s Bill of Rights particularly is faded and cannot take much light at all. The Constitution is in a little bit better shape so its a little easier to read. So yes, we had to be very careful about the amount of light,” Howard.
On Dec. 13, the Constitution will go to auction in New York. It’s estimated to go for between $20 million and $30 million.
In November 2021, Sotheby’s facilitation of the only other official first printing of the Constitution sold for $43.2 million. The company says that sale established a new record for any book, manuscript, or printed text sold at auction.