Magna Carta to be auctioned in New York

A 13th-century copy of the Magna Carta is to be offered for sale at Sotheby’s New York for up to $30m, it was announced on Tuesday.

It is the only copy of the document to have remained in private hands and one of only two outside of England.

The manuscript, dated 1297, has been on view at the National Archives in Washington since arriving in the US in 1984, when it was bought by the Perot Foundation and placed alongside the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The auction house described it as the “most important document ever offered at auction”.

David Redden, vice-chairman of Sotheby’s, said: “The Magna Carta is the first rung on the ladder to freedom. This document symbolises mankind’s eternal quest for freedom. It is a talisman of liberty.”

The Magna Carta – Latin for “Great Charter” – was originally issued in 1215 in response to tensions between King John and English noblemen, and confirmed as English law in 1297, the year that the sale document was issued.

The Magna Carta enshrined certain human rights in English law, including the right against unlawful imprisonment, the right to a speedy trial, and to a trial by a jury of one’s peers.

Up to 400 copies of the document were issued in the 13th century, each intended for a specific district. The document featured in the sale was issued by Edward I for Buckinghamshire.

The document was enormously influential in the American revolution, when it was cited in justification of the rebellion.

Fewer than 20 copies are said to survive today and all are in public or ecclesiastical collections, including one in Australia.

Charities are benefiting as prices rise for collectibles ranging from historical documents to postage stamps that are owned by philanthropists.

Pimco fund manager Bill Gross raised $9.1m in June from early British stamps for Doctors Without Borders, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Perot’s foundation will use the funds for medical research, public education and other programmes.

Additional reporting by agencies.

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