Say you want to buy an early printing of the US Constitution, but you’ve only got a couple of bucks. Normally, you’d be out of luck, but maybe not today: over the last week, a collective has formed to raise enough money to buy a rare early printing of the Constitution at auction, raising money from anyone who wants to chip in online.
The document is expected to sell at Sotheby’s for as high as $20 million — what would seem to be an insurmountable price for a crowdfunding initiative. And yet, somehow, the collective has raised $27 million to date. And they still have more than 24 hours to go.
There’s a lot going on here, so I’m just going to break it down piece by piece:
The document being purchased is one of 13 remaining copies of the Official Edition of the Constitution, a final draft created for the Continental Congress, according to Sotheby’s.
The group raising money to buy the copy is called the ConstitutionDAO.
DAO stands for “decentralized autonomous organization.” A lot of these have been popping up lately in the crypto space, usually with specific goals, like selling merch or… buying a copy of the US Constitution.
DAOs are basically worker coops for crypto nerds. It’s a kind of decentralized corporation with all the rules inscribed into smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, so all the sensitive corporate functions happen in a decentralized and automatic way. In practice, it’s a way to raise a lot of money really fast for some kind of capital-intensive collective endeavor like buying a copy of the Constitution.
Separately, we’ve seen more and more instances of people collectively pooling finances online in ways that have real-world impact but are also basically silly: see the whole GameStonk thing.
ConstitutionDAO had been picking up speed in recent days, but it really exploded this afternoon after being featured in The New York Times, raising more than $10 million today alone.
Because it’s a DAO, all of the money is being raised in Ether. Then, to track who gets a say in the organization, contributors will get governance tokens, giving them the ability to vote on what becomes of the document (should they successfully buy it).
If ConstitutionDAO wins the auction, they intend to find a partner organization that will publicly display it, ideally for free to visitors.
If they lose, money will be sent back to contributors, minus fees.
The auction is being held on Thursday at 6:30PM ET. Good luck to whoever is bidding against the collective will of the internet.