What has been a rich summer season of American book and manuscript sales culminated when Christie’s New York saw a record for any American book or historical document.
Set at $8.7m (£5.58m), it was posted for
George Washington's annotated copy of the 1789 printing of the
Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of
America…, in effect the US Constitution and the proposed Bill
of Rights. The sale took place on June 22.
Bearing the first president's bold signature
and armorial bookplate, this slim volume in its contemporary
binding of polished tree calf gilt is still in almost pristine
condition, and that despite the fact that Washington had obviously
spent much time poring over its pages.
Carefully inserted brackets and marginal
notes highlight key passages regarding presidential
responsibilities, testifying, said the
Christie's cataloguer, to his careful and conscientious
approach to the powers, duties and responsibilities of his
ground-breaking first term.
The volume Washington once described as "the
guide I will never abandon" remained in the library at Vernon, his
Virginia home, until 1876, when a descendant sold it in a
Philadelphia auction, along with many other books from his
Since that time it has passed through
several hands, including those of William Randolph Hearst and the
Heritage Foundation of Deerfield, Massachusetts, but it is almost
50 years since they sold it on. In 1964 it was acquired at $27,000
by Americana collector Richard Dietrich Jnr., and it was the
Dietrich American Foundation which sent it to auction this summer -
but it is unlikely that it will ever again come under the
This time the winning bid, against an
estimate of $2m-3m, was made on behalf of the Mount Vernon Ladies
Association of the Union, a non-profit educational organisation
that owns and operates the museum and historical site at Mount
Thomas Allen of New York, who printed and
specially bound Washington's copy of Acts
Passed… also created similar volumes for the Secretary of
State, Thomas Jefferson and for the Attorney General, John Jay.
Jefferson's copy is now in the Lilly Library
at Bloomington, Indiana, but Jay's copy, which made $150,000 as
part of the Doheny library at Christie's in 1989 and two years
later sold for $210,000 as part of the Richard Manney library at
Sotheby's New York, remains in private hands.
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%