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.