it is worth a click to the photo for a close-up
The Magna Carta is without doubt the single most important document to the cause of freedom, individual liberty and rights. It is the fountainhead to The American Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and The Bill of Rights. That a spare copy exists and is for sale is remarkable.
I have linked a translation. The BBC says it will sell for something over $25 million. My money is nothing under $100 million. Talk about a legacy gift. Any guesses on who will buy it and what they will do with it?
Here is more on this magnificent document.
Magna Carta: 2,500 words, 710 years old –and for sale
By Lisa Anderson | Tribune national correspondent
December 8, 2007
NEW YORK—Even in the hyperbole-prone world of fine art, antiques and documents, there is the "rare," there is the "important" and there is the Magna Carta.
As rare as it is important, a 13th Century original copy of this medieval template for modern laws upholding human rights and freedoms will be sold to the highest bidder on Dec. 18 at Sotheby's here. It could be yours for an estimated $20 million to $30 million.
Such a chance may never come again, according to David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman, who showed off the vellum manuscript at a preview Friday. He described the document as the most important ever to be sold at auction.
"I guess the most astonishing thing is it's here and it's for sale," said Redden. Only 17 original copies of the Magna Carta are known to survive. English archives and libraries hold 15 of them and Australia has one, none of which is likely ever to be sold, he said. He noted there are no restrictions on who may bid on the Magna Carta or where they may take it.
The document is being sold by The Perot Foundation, a philanthropy founded by Texas billionaire and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, which purchased it for $1.5 million in 1984. For approximately five centuries before that, the document belonged to the wealthy English Brudenell family of Deene Park in Northhampshire, although it is not certain how they acquired it.
Sotheby's is auctioning the only original copy of the manuscript that has been held primarily in private hands since it was produced by a royal scribe in 1297. That was the year the Magna Carta, originally written in 1215 and revised through the 13th Century, finally was entered into English common law by King Edward I. Handwritten copies were made for distribution around the kingdom.
Long, elegant manuscript
Written in ink on a 710-year-old sheet of animal skin vellum and bearing the wax seal of King Edward, the manuscript has held up surprisingly well. Although it is marred by some staining and missing words, Sotheby's Magna Carta, or Great Charter, is about 14 inches wide by 16 inches high and features 2,500 Latin words densely packed into 68 lines of text. Most of it is legible, particularly if you use a magnifying glass. The now-sepia-colored handwriting is exquisite, in an elegant chancery script with flourishes on perfectly formed letters that are only about one-eighth-inch high.
"Quite frankly, the reason it's called Magna Carta is it's big," said Redden, noting that because the document was long and vellum was valuable, scribes had to write in the most economical manner possible.
But, he added, "In a very important way it doesn't matter what it looks like because what one is offering is one of the most important symbols of world history."
Beyond England, the Magna Carta provided the foundation for legal systems throughout the world, Redden said, including those of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, former British colonies in Asia and Africa and, of course, the United States. Many of the ideas and language used in the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence find their roots in the Magna Carta.
These include the right to a speedy trial before a jury of one's peers; no taxation without representation; the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people; the idea of government drawing power from the consent of the governed; the right of habeas corpus, which protects against unlawful imprisonment; and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
Most important, the Magna Carta established the revolutionary concept that no man is above the law, even the king. In 1215, it was forged out of outrage against the abuses of King John, a cruel sovereign who ran roughshod over his subjects. After a rebellion by barons, he hammered out the first version of the Magna Carta with them and signed it at Runnymede, a meadow alongside the Thames. Although it was revised over the years, the document did not become part of common law until 82 years later. The catalyst was rebellion against another abusive king, John's grandson Edward I, who exploited his subjects, seizing goods, extorting loans and raising taxes to finance his wars of expansion.
On display in archives
After The Perot Foundation purchase of the document, it spent most of the last 23 years on display at the National Archives in Washington. It was removed this fall. Proceeds of the sale will fund medical research, education and aid to wounded soldiers.
"It wasn't our copy. It belonged to The Perot Foundation. We always knew it was on loan to us. That's the nature of a loan, it's not permanent," said National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper. When asked if they would like to get it back on loan from the next owner, she declined to speculate.
But Redden was not as shy on their behalf. "The National Archives would like it back," he said, crisply. "They very much, explicitly, would like it back."