Magna Carta fetches $21.3 million at Sotheby's auction

Tue Dec 18, 2007 9:57pm EST
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By Christopher Michaud

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rare 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, among the most important historical documents ever to hit the auction block, sold for $21.3 million on Tuesday at Sotheby's.

The document was bought by a Washington businessman who said he was determined to see it remain in the United States, where it has been on display at the National Archives and Records Administration since 1988.

The last remaining copy in the United States and the last in private hands, the Magna Carta, one of 17 known to exist, was sold by The Perot Foundation, created by billionaire former U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot to make philanthropic grants. The foundation acquired it from the collections of the Brudenell family of Deene Park in Northamptonshire in 1984.

"It's a good day for our country," said David Rubenstein, a lawyer and founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equities firm, told reporters after he made the extraordinary purchase, adding that he had arrived just minutes before the sale and very nearly missed out.

"I was determined to do what I could to see that the National Archives can continue to display this," Rubenstein said, noting that the 1297 document was the basis for both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

"I am really just a temporary custodian of it," said Rubenstein, adding that he would not have to travel far to see the document as his office is just a few hundreds yards from the National Archives. Rubenstein said his Washington connections run deep, having once worked under President Jimmy Carter as a deputy domestic policy advisor.

He said he would "rely on the National Archives' advice" regarding the document possibly going on tour internationally, saying his wish was that it could be seen by as many people as possible.

The Magna Carta, which Sotheby's called "the most important document in the world," established the rights of the English people and curbed the power of the king.   Continued...

<p>David Rubenstein, founder of the Carlyle Group, stands in front of a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta which he bought at Sotheby's auction house for $21,321,000, in New York, December 18, 2007. The Magna Carta is known as the basis of many parts of current law, most notably, the writ of habeas corpus, which allows appeal by prisoners against unlawful imprisonment by government. REUTERS/Chip East</p>