We the People of California: Rare Documents related to the California State Constitution to be Offered on at Bonhams & Butterfields in October

  • LOS ANGELES, California
  • /
  • September 17, 2009

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CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION, 1849. Estimate: $10,000 - 15,000
Bonhams & Butterfields

We the People of California: Rare Documents related to the California State Constitution to be Offered on at Bonhams & Butterfields in October

Public previews timed to coincide with the 160th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention

Included within the Bonhams & Butterfields' Fine Books & Manuscripts auction on October 19, 2009 are two remarkable documents dating from the birth of the State of California:  The first is a registrar leaf from the 1849 California State Constitutional Convention signed and inscribed by 46 members of the delegation.  Signatures include those of Henry W.  Halleck who would later serve as a Union general in the Civil War;  Robert Semple, president of the Convention ; and John Sutter,  owner of the land where gold was first discovered in California.  Each leaf includes the signatures, place of birth, residence, and age of each Delegate "convened in general Convention on the 1st day of September 1849 "at Monterey, to frame a State Constitution for California."

The accompanying document is believed to be a preliminary signatory page prepared for a printed version of the Constitution.  The text at the upper margin reads: "Signatures of the Delegates assembled in Convention in Colton Hall September & October 1849 to form the first Constitution of California."  Each individual signature sits on a penciled line, and spaces for the five delegates who haven't signed are marked with annotations.

In preparation for statehood, California Military Governor Bennet Riley issued a proclamation in June 1849 calling for the election of delegates to a convention designed to craft a state constitution.  Riley called for the election of 37 delegates, apportioning representatives to the various settlements in California; 48 delegates would eventually serve. Only a handful of delegates were native-born Californians, the rest were from the east coast, south, and Europe.

The Convention was in session 43 days; members adopted the Constitution on October 10 and adjourned three days later.  In preparation for the state's admission to the union, the constitution clearly spells out California's identity as a free state, declaring that "all men are by nature free and independent" and that "Neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude ... shall ever be tolerated in this state."

The documents have descended together through an old California family with ties to the Santa Clara valley region.  The pair is expected to bring $10,000-15,000 on October 19th.  Public previews for the documents in both Los Angeles and New York are timed to coincide with the 160th anniversary of the Convention. 

Also featured in the October sale is an archive of rare correspondence and black and white photographs related to the personal life of Winnie-the-Pooh author A. A. Milne, his wife, and his son Christopher Robin.  Contents of note include three charming letters written by Christopher Robin, the earliest at age nine, and six rare snapshots dating from 1928-1930 capturing images of the Milnes at home, including two rare pictures of Christopher Robin with his beloved Winnie-the-Pooh bear (est. $3,000-5,000).

Additional highlights for the September Fine Books & Manuscripts auction will be announced in late summer.  The illustrated catalogue will be available online for review and purchase at www.bonhams.com/us in the weeks preceding the sale.

Previews: September 9-11, 2009, New York; October 16-18, Los Angeles

Auction: October 19, 2009, Los Angeles, simulcast to Bonhams New York


Press Contact:  Jannelle Grigsby, (310) 567-7990,


About Bonhams

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's oldest and largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son and Neale UK. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America and in August 2003, Goodmans, a leading Australian fine art and antiques auctioneer with salerooms in Sydney, joined the Bonhams Group of Companies. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street, and Knightsbridge, and a further seven throughout the UK. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Boston in the USA; and Switzerland, France, Monaco, Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 57 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, go to www.bonhams.com. (01-08) For other press releases, go to www.bonhams.com/press.

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