Sotheby's unmasks winners of Declaration auction

TV producer Norman Lear and Critical Path chairman David Hayden are the pair who paid $8.1 million for an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

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Television producer Norman Lear and Critical Path chairman David Hayden have paid a high price for liberty.

This morning, Sotheby's identified Lear and Hayden as the winning bidders in Sothebys.com's auction of an original copy of the Declaration of Independence.

The pair bid $8.1 million for the historic document yesterday.

Lear and Hayden say they will loan the document to the People For the American Way Foundation, a civil liberties organization founded by Lear. The organization plans to display the document in public libraries, schools and town halls.

"It is our hope to take this copy of the Declaration of Independence to cities and towns across the country to share with them the Founders' vision of a free people," Lear said in a statement.

Hayden's company, which is based in San Francisco, provides email outsourcing to businesses.

Lear and Hayden's winning bid, which includes a $740,000 fee to Sotheby's, came more than 45 minutes after the auction was scheduled to close. Unlike online auction leader eBay, Sothebys.com extends bidding in its auctions if it receives any bids within 5 minutes of an auction's close.

The bidding started off slowly, with only two bids placed until 90 minutes before the end of the auction. In the last hour and a half, Hayden and Lear exchanged 27 bids with another seller known only as paddle No. 29644.

The document is one of 25 known copies from the first printing of the Declaration, according to Sotheby's. The auction house called it one of the best-preserved copies.

"It is easy to call this document the most important printed piece of paper in the world," said David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman and head of the company's books and manuscripts division.

The multimillion-dollar bid on the auction is one of the highest bids placed online and comes as consumers are lodging increasing complaints about fraudulent online auctions.

Jupiter Communications analyst Mike May said the large bid has less to do with the comfort consumers have in online auctions and more with the security they feel in dealing with a known brand name like Sotheby's.

"Because it's being sold at Sotheby's, bidders know that it is authentic," May said. "If it was being auctioned off at a site called HistoricalDocuments.com, the bids wouldn't go nearly as high."

Despite Sotheby's apparent success in auctioning the Declaration online, it and other traditional auction houses have struggled to adjust to the demands of online bidders.

Sotheby's rival Christie's canceled its online auction plans last fall, and Sotheby's, eBay-owned Butterfields and Sothebys.Amazon have disappointed bidders by failing to respond to inquiries, shipping packages late, and shipping items that don't correspond with auction descriptions.

Representatives of the traditional auction houses have said that they have worked to correct the problems.