My last Tuesday went something like this:
8:30am, up and scanning emails, checking voicemails. Open up one that says Sotheby's is hosting the sale of the Magna Carta at 7pm that evening. Get really excited; its the Magna fucking Carta! Check the Sotheby's website - they open at 9am.
8:45, hit the shower, make some coffee and toast.
9, call Sotheby's. Yes, they're selling the Magna Carta, yes its free for observers and yes it starts at 7pm, but get there early cause there's gonna be a lot of watcher-ons like myself.
9-3 or so, take care of business, personal and professional. Attempt to find a date for the auction via Craigslist Missed Connections page, posted with the title: "Are You Sexy? Are You Smart? Do You Want To See The Magna Cart(a)?" No-one responds.
3-5 or so, errands in the city, including swiping a pair of $25 fuzzy slips from TJ Maxx.
5-7, all the way uptown to 72nd and York. Drink a beer and make some phone calls to California about some upcoming tours for a group travel company called Contiki that I also work for. 7pm rolls around, I manage to convince my new roommate Marcelo as well as this funny quirky bird of a girl, named Ivana, also a building friend, to showup.
The place is packed. This is a single-item bid, its just the Magna Carta, and they're expecting it to fetch between $20 and $30 million dollars. This particular M.C. dates from 1297 and is the only one existing in the Western Hemisphere - out of the complete set of 17 Magna Cartas, 15 are in England and are never leaving; one is in Australia and is never leaving. This is the only one in the Western Hemisphere, previously owned by Ross Perot since 1984 and on display at the National Archives. Ole Perot decided to sell his copy, with the proceeds going to his children's charity. This is, quite honestly, the only time a single document of this much importance will ever go on sale, ever. This is what brings us to Sotheby's on a Tuesday night for the public sale of one of history's most important documents.
David Redden, Sotheby's VP and the auctioneer took the stage and the crowd, its 20 cameras and 30+ reports hush up. He says "Well. The Magna Carta. What can I say?" I expect him to start giving an expedited history of the document, something along the lines of "written in 1297, it is the definitive document that rebukes the Monarchical system by indirectly introducing the Common Law of Man . . ." but no. Instead, he launched straight into the bidding. "Do I have $12 million? $12, $12, $12, I have $12, How about $12.5? $12.5 I have $12, I have $13 yes I have $13, $14 . . . etc." It climbed to $19 million and held. Held. Held. And in less than 3 minutes it was over. $19 million dollars for this sheepskin parchment, riddled with holes, hanging onto a massive wax seal attached via tattered ribbon, and one of the three most important documents in America's history (the other two being the Declaration o Independence and the Bill of Rights, of course.) Sudden. Quick. It was truly heartracing.
Afterwards there was a Q&A session with the new owner, a David Rubenstein of the Carlysle Corporation, an equities fund company, or something to that effect that I'll never understand or have to worry about. He was very sincere, almost blushing. He was phoning in his bids, as he had flown in from DC and his plane and cab were late and he almost missed the entire auction. He made some very tender and patriotic statements about keeping this document in the Western Hemisphere, on view at the National Archives for public viewing, and how he couldn't let any foreigner or outsider take this document away from hardworking Americans. It wasn't clear if he spent his personal money or his company's money. After a couple of questions including "Do you speak any Latin?" & "What's your favorite passage?", I shot my hand up and inquired "So, do you plan on spending any alone time with the Magna Carta?" and the gathered crowd had a chuckle. Mr. Rubenstein remarked "This IS my alone time!" and gestured to the cameras convened.A few more questions and then he had to pose for individual pictures and we all took to the streets. It was some of the most exciting 3 minutes I'd spent in a long time.
4 years ago