Rubenstein Buys Magna Carta of 1297 for $21.3 Million (Update1)
By Lindsay Pollock – December 19, 2007
Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) — David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private-equity firm Carlyle Group, last night bought a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta, an English royal document and symbol of freedom, for $21.3 million including commission at Sotheby’s in New York.
Rubenstein, who served in the White House in the Carter administration, said he would lend the manuscript to the National Archives in Washington, where it has been on view until recently.
“I think it is a great document for people to see,” Rubenstein said after the sale, standing beside a display case containing the manuscript. Rubenstein, a former lawyer, said his office is near the National Archives, where he had seen the Magna Carta, or “Great Charter,” on display. Carlyle Group manages more than $76 billion.
“I am really a temporary custodian,” he said. “This document is going to be around a lot longer than I am.”
Rubenstein almost missed his chance to bid. He arrived minutes before the one-lot sale began, tossing his trench coat into a checkroom and racing to the seventh-floor salesroom.
“The fight for freedom is an ongoing fight,” Rubenstein said. “People who study the Magna Carta realize how significant it is.”
Penned in a medieval Latin script on animal-skin vellum, the one-page, 2,500-word manuscript was estimated to sell for $20 million to $30 million before commission. It’s one of 17 surviving 13th-century versions and bears the wax seal of King Edward I of England. The original version of the document was signed by Edward’s grandfather, King John, in 1215.
The seller was the Texas-based Perot Foundation, founded by billionaire Ross Perot. Auction proceeds will be used for medical research and to aid military veterans and their families.
“It’s a tremendous historical document,” Perot said in an interview before the auction. “It gave people personal freedom, something which many of us now take for granted.”
Perot bought the Magna Carta in 1983 from the Brudenell family, earls of Cardigans, who had owned it for five centuries. Perot paid about $1.5 million.
“I couldn’t believe it was for sale,” said Perot, who sent a team to England to examine the document. He said it was stored in a dark, humid room that helped preserve its condition. Aside from some brown stains and small tears, the 710-year-old sheet of paper is in remarkably good shape.
Last night’s sale price included a buyer’s premium, or commission, of 25 percent of the hammer price up to $20,000, 20 percent of the price from $20,000 to $500,000, and 12 percent above $500,000.
Exhibited in Washington
Before the sale, Perot had loaned the Magna Carta to the National Archives, where it was displayed near the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, documents influenced by the English predecessor.
The Magna Carta sprang from negotiations between King John and rebel barons in 1215. John agreed to a charter of liberties certifying that the king was not above the law. The Magna Carta was later reissued with modifications. The 1297 version included provisions against taxation without representation and was the first Magna Carta confirmed as English law.
Other copies are owned by the British Library, Salisbury Cathedral Archives and the London Public Record Office. Oxford University’s Bodleian Library owns four and placed them on view last week for one day.
Perot said he had no idea that the value of Magna Carta would escalate so drastically.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of opportunity,” he said. “It’s time to take that money and use it for good causes.”
(Lindsay Pollock writes on the art market for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)