Opinion: An artifact worth more than money

Credit: Russ Bryant Photography

Credit: Russ Bryant Photography


On Thursday evening, Nov. 18, 2021, collectors and historians around the world waited with bated breath as an original copy of the United States Constitution went up for auction.

There are only 13 original copies of the U.S. Constitution in existence, and only two are privately held. None has sold in many years, so no one knew the true value of the document, which was expected to fetch $20 million. When the gavel finally dropped, the document sold for an eye-popping $43.2 million, making it the priciest six pages to ever be sold at auction.

Among the 11 copies of the U.S. Constitution that reside in an archival repository is one held by the Georgia Historical Society. Associated with Georgia Constitutional Convention delegate Abraham Baldwin, the document bears Baldwin’s signature and his hand-written edits. Baldwin received this copy for review before the final printing (hence his editing marks and other marginalia) and he carefully preserved it after the work of the Convention was completed.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Abraham Baldwin’s draft copy of the United States Constitution is the crown jewel of the GHS collection and the most important of the 5 million documents, rare books, photographs and artifacts held by the institution for the benefit of the people of Georgia and the United States. It has been a part of our archives since the earliest days of GHS, the foundation upon which the oldest collection of Georgia history materials in the world was built.

Today this sacred document is stored securely. But that doesn’t mean that it is stashed away, inaccessible to “We the People.” Indeed, it is used on a regular basis to teach and inspire.

It serves as the nucleus of the U.S. Constitution teacher resources developed during our Georgia History Festival, reaching approximately 250,000 students each year. On Constitution Day it is displayed in the GHS Library Reading Room where it is viewed by the public, including thousands of awestruck Georgia students and their teachers.

Besides its significance as a priceless artifact and anchor for our collection, the Georgia Historical Society’s copy of the U.S. Constitution serves an even grander purpose. The document is crucial to understanding the establishment of the American system of government, the codification of all that was fought for and won at enormous cost during the American Revolution.

As a living symbol of the American republic, this copy of the U.S. Constitution reflects our commitment as a nation to government of, by, and for the People. It is a reminder during these turbulent times of who we are and what we stand for — ordered liberty, the supremacy of the people and the rule of law. The Georgia Historical Society is honored to care for it and to hold it in trust for this generation and all those that follow, for many years to come.

W. Todd Groce is president and CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.