A crowd-funded effort to purchase a rare 1787 copy of the United States Constitution at auction claims to have received cryptocurrency donations worth more than $ 13 million (£ 9.6 million).
The group, ConstitutionDAO, says it wants to “put the constitution in the hands of the people” and hopes to raise at least $ 20 million.
But it is not clear how the property will be organized if the offer is successful.
The BBC reached out to the group for comment.
Published in 1787, the auctioneer Sotheby’s estimates a sale price of up to $ 20 million when the auction takes place on November 18.
There are 13 known surviving copies from a circulation of 500 originally printed after the text was established at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The copy for sale is one of only two not kept in an institution’s collection, says Sotheby’s.
The group wants to put the document in public.
DAO stands for “decentralized autonomous organization”.
The idea is to allow individuals to come together to make purchases and share ownership, with their transactions and operating rules recorded on the blockchain, the same underlying technology that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum run on.
ConstitutionDAO was launched just a week before the auction and is soliciting the money with which to purchase the constitution document in Ethereum.
On its website, the group claims that it “is pooling the money to win this auction”.
At the beginning, the website told contributors they were buying “fractional ownership and governance. You own a portion of the constitution based on how much you contribute.”
It has since changed to say that those who contribute will not get a share in owning the constitution.
The question “Do I receive ownership of the constitution in exchange for my donation?” you reply, “No, you are receiving a governance token, not fractional ownership.”
The “governance token”, the site reads, could be used to “advise” on “where the constitution must be displayed, how it must be exhibited, the mission and values of ConstitutionDAO”.
According to a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document posted on the group’s Discord social media channel by a lead contributor to the project: “After the initial purchase, the community will be able to refurbish the property” in line with the mission and values of the group.
The website says there will be “refunds” if the auction bid is unsuccessful.
However, the largely unregulated world of cryptocurrencies carries with it a lot of risks.
The FAQ warns of the possibility of hacking or theft of money, although it says “we have made everything as safe and foolproof as possible given the time constraints”.
The cryptocurrency funds that will be used to make the purchase are held in a wallet currently controlled by 13 major contributors, of which nine are required to approve transactions.
DAOs have a checkered history. In 2016, “The DAO” – a distributed venture capital organization – raised 150 million dollars, only to see $ 50 million disappear in a hack due to a flaw in the code used.
The legal status of DAOs is also unclear, experts say.
Sotheby’s told the BBC: “As DAOs are not legally recognized entities in most jurisdictions, Sotheby’s requires DAOs to take certain legal steps to ensure that the entity can participate in our auctions at this time.”
As a result, the project set up a US limited company to participate.
On the screen
The group says it is looking for “an esteemed partner” to publicly display the constitution.
“Any homeowner must have the skills to properly host, store and maintain the artifact,” says the group.
“In addition, the community has expressed strong preferences for institutions that are free for the public and willing to cover the costs associated with keeping the document.”
Proceeds from Sotheby’s auction will go to the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, a non-profit group that works to promote understanding of democracy.
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