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A Rare First-Edition Copy Of The Constitution Will Be Up For Auction

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Sotheby's will auction off a very old copy of the U.S. Constitution in about two months. It is the first printing of the final text that delegates of the Constitutional Convention settled on in 1787.

SELBY KIFFER: There were probably 500 copies originally printed. Only 11 are known to survive, nine of them in institutions - one in London - the others all here in the United States - and two are privately owned in the U.S.

NOEL KING, HOST:

That was Selby Kiffer. He's the international senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby's. He sold a copy to a buyer 30 years ago, and it went for $165,000. Now, this time around...

KIFFER: I've estimated it now to sell for between $15 and $20 million. That's a dramatic increase.

MARTINEZ: He says it's still in great condition.

KIFFER: It's printed on handmade paper with a very high cotton-rag content. That's one reason why it's survived so well. It was hand-printed with hand-set type, so there's a little bit of a relief that you could feel where the letters were pressed into the slightly dampened paper.

KING: All this means the new buyer will be able to pick it up, hold it and read it.

KIFFER: It takes you, really, back to September 1787. And then you stop and think, this copy might have been handled by Alexander Hamilton, by James Madison, by Benjamin Franklin, by George Washington, who was the president of the Constitutional Convention. It's really quite remarkable.

MARTINEZ: Kiffer has an idea of who the next owner may be.

KIFFER: I think it will be someone who has a sense of the significance of the document - not simply wanting to own it for its own sake but to preserve it. I think this could appeal to anyone who has that collecting gene and someone in particular who has a certain feeling of patriotism.

KING: And who is getting rich from all of this? Well, proceeds are going to go to the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation. That's a nonprofit that works to help people understand democracy better. Very nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE TRUE LOVES' "THE DIRTY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.