I don’t favor such things, but if there were ever a case for export restrictions in this country, this is it:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sotheby’s in New York will present for sale The Magna Carta, the royal document revered as the birth certificate of freedom. This iconic manuscript, dated 1297, is the original charter that enshrined the rights of man into English law, and inspired the passion for liberty that flowered in America in the 18th century and continues around the world today. It is the most famous single document in existence….This is one of only two copies of the Magna Carta outside of England (the other belonging to the people of Australia). The document is estimated to sell for $20/30 million with the proceeds benefiting the charitable activities of The [Ross] Perot Foundation.
The sale is set for Dec. 11. Sotheby’s says that Perot’s parchment is “one of fewer than 20 examples of the Magna Carta, and the only one ever likely to be sold.”
I would urge Sotheby’s and Perot to be Magna-nimous and at least give American institutions a chance to match the auction price, if it is knocked down to a private or foreign buyer. This may be a British document, but it was of central importance to the birth of our own democracy.
One institution that would undoubtedly want it (but probably can’t, by itself, afford it) is the National Archives, where it has been on display (other than an eight-month showing in Philadelphia in celebration of the Constitution’s bicentennial) since 1985. Perot bought it in 1984 for $1.5 million.
The Archives’ website describes the document as “on display through September 20, 2007….This is the only Magna Carta permanently residing in the United States.”
Or maybe not.