George Washington's copies of Constitution, Bill of Rights sell for $9.8M

A boy takes a photograph of George Washington's personal copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Story highlights

  • Volume includes copy of Constitution, draft of Bill of Rights
  • Washington was given the papers in 1789
  • Auctioned book will be displayed at Mount Vernon
George Washington's personal copy of the U.S. Constitution and a draft of the Bill of Rights sold Friday at Christie's for a whopping $9.8 million.
Ann Bookout, regent of the board of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, won the bid.
"This is our mission to bring home all things Washington," Bookout said. "We want people to know that Mount Vernon is the home of where these wonderful treasures should belong."
The 1789 annotated volume, titled "Acts of Congress," will be displayed in the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which opens in 2013 at Mount Vernon.
The near-pristine artifacts were printed and bound for Washington in his first year in office as president of the United States.
"There's no question in my mind that this book is one of the most important pieces of Americana to come to the market in decades," said Chris Coover, senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Christie's.
Washington's book has not been available since 1964.
The item had a presale estimate of between $2 million and $3 million. However, it was the final auctioned item of the day and launched a heated bidding war between two seated participants, Bookout and an unknown bidder.
"It was thrilling," Bookout said, "but I had a quiet resolve with the support of the ladies who are on the board that we were determined to bring it home."
This copy of the Acts of Congress stayed in the library at Mount Vernon after Washington's death in 1799. In 1876, many of his books, including this volume, were auctioned off.
Washington's notes and brackets line the margins of the Constitution. On the title page is his signature. On the marbled end paper is his personal bookplate, engraved with his motto, Exitus acta probat (the end justifies the means).
"It has such resonance of Washington the man," Coover said. "It was sort of a way of reminding himself what the responsibilities and duties of the president were. You can't get more evocative than that."