Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Magna Carta Bought, Will Stay in U.S.

As predicted, the winning bidder for the 1297 Magna Carta auctioned by Sotheby's yesterday was motivated by the desire to keep it in the USA. The Guardian reports:

David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group private equity firm, paid $21.3m (£10.6m) for the document ...

Rubenstein, who worked in the White House during the Jimmy Carter administration, said: "Today is a good day for our country. I was moved when I saw the manuscript at Sotheby's and I was concerned that the only copy that was in America would escape. I was convinced that it needed to stay here.

"This document stands the test of time. There is nothing more important than what it represents. I am privileged to be the new owner, but I am only the temporary custodian. This is a gift to the American people. It is important to me that it stays in the United States."

However, lest the former colonies congratulate themselves too much, Oxfor'd Bodleian library indulged in what the Guardian characterizes as "scholarly one-upmanship" by displaying for one only day all four of its copies of the Magna Carta. Three date from 1217 and one from 1225, all older than than the copy auctioned yesterday. Hugh Doherty, an expert on medieval manuscripts working at Oxford, described the history of the trans-Atlantic rivalry:

His digging uncovered government records revealing the spluttering outrage of Lincoln cathedral when its copy was stranded in the United States on the outbreak of the second world war. Winston Churchill had the bright idea of presenting it to the Americans - without consulting the cathedral. The manuscript stayed in the States until after the war, but Lincoln then managed to retrieve it.

"It was an extraordinarily powerful document in its day and since. There are records of it being waved to assert rights in York within 10 years of its creation," Doherty said.

"It has had an extraordinary afterlife, particularly in the United States where in the War of Independence it seemed to chime with the assertion of rights against George III, in the 19th century when it was cited by Abraham Lincoln among many others, and on into the 20th century."

The New York Times reports that Rubenstein intends for his copy to go back on display in the National Archives in Washington, DC.

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