Kenneth Griffin, Finance Titan and Retail-Investor Bogeyman, Beat Out the DAO to Buy the U.S. Constitution at Sotheby’s

Goliath beats David.

Kenneth C. Griffin, Citadel Founder and Chief Executive Officer, at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference in NYC. Photo: Heidi Gutman/CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank.

Billionaire art collector and financier Kenneth Griffin has stepped forward to confirm he is the new owner of the rare copy of the U.S. Constitution that sold for a record-shattering $43.2 million at Sotheby’s last night. He may also now be enemy number one among the more than 17,000 people who contributed to ConstitutionDAO, the largest crowdfunding campaign in history, which also sought to purchase the document.

Griffin will loan the rare printing of America’s founding document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which was founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. The price he paid was more than double the object’s $20 million high estimate.

Sotheby's chairman Brooke Lampley on the phone for the winning bid of the Constitution at Sotheby's New York.

Sotheby’s chairman Brooke Lampley on the phone for the winning bid of the Constitution at Sotheby’s New York.

“The U.S. Constitution is a sacred document that enshrines the rights of every American and all those who aspire to be,” Griffin said in a statement. “That is why I intend to ensure that this copy of our Constitution will be available for all Americans and visitors to view and appreciate in our museums and other public spaces.”

The auction was likely one of Sotheby’s most-watched ever. It came down to an eight-minute bidding war between Sotheby’s fine-art chairman Brooke Lampley, representing Griffin, and Sotheby’s private-sales head David Schrader, who was presumably bidding on behalf of ConstitutionDAO. Griffin wasn’t playing: When the bidding reached $14 million, progressing in $1 million increments, he jumped all the way up to $30 million. 

The army of cryptocurrency enthusiasts had banded together in a matter of days to fundraise $47 million on the blockchain in an effort to purchase the document and put it on public display “for the people.”

But Griffin prevailed, bidding $41 million before fees—just over the threshold that the DAO was prepared to pay.

In a statement, Crystal Bridges chairperson Olivia Walton seemed to suggest the DAO’s goal might still be met (though the DAO likely won’t see it that way). “We welcome our neighbors and diverse visitors from across the country and around the world to see the U.S. Constitution alongside our art collection that focuses on telling the story of the history of America,” she said.

The official edition of the Constitution, the first printing of its final text. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

The official edition of the Constitution, the first printing of its final text. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

The copy of the U.S. Constitution was owned by the late S. Howard Goldman, a real estate developer and collector of historic documents. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, founded by his wife to promote public understanding of democracy. Only a member of the Continental Congress or a delegate to the Continental Convention would have had access to this first printing, Sotheby’s said.

The fact that Griffin—who also happens to be one of the world’s top blue-chip art collectors—won the lot is something of an ironic twist considering his populist opponent. The very same Griffin emerged as an enemy of small-time retail investors earlier this year when they accused his company, Citadel, of pressuring brokerages like Robin Hood to limit the trading of Gamestop and other meme stocks. Citadel denied meddling and dismissed the accusations as “Internet conspiracies and Twitter mobs.”

Watch out, Ken—those mobs may be back.


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