The Philanthropic Legacy of Collector Dorothy Tapper Goldman

A collector of historical documents and artwork, Goldman funneled major auction proceeds toward charitable causes.

Dorothy Tapper Goldman, a prominent collector of historical artifacts best known for her record-breaking sale of a copy of the U.S. Constitution, has died at 78, leaving behind a philanthropic legacy centered upon education, history and American constitutionalism.

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Three people huddle around historical document
Dorothy Tapper Goldman with Juan Torruella, chief judge at the U.S. Court of Appeals, and Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of the Boston Bar Association. Boston Globe via Getty Images

Goldman made headlines in 2021 when she offered up a rare copy of the U.S. Constitution for sale at Sotheby's. One of thirteen known copies from its original printing in 1789 and one of two copies in private hands, the document was originally purchased by her late husband S. Howard Goldman, a real estate developer, in 1988 for $165,000. Howard collected historical documents himself, owning signatures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and at least one document signed by all 108 justices who have held seats on the Supreme Court. While much of his collection was sold in 1995, the U.S. Constitution eventually ended up in Goldman’s possession.

“When it passed to me, I felt an incredible sense of responsibility to care for it, to share it, and to promote our nation’s Constitutional principles,” she said in a statement in 2021. The auction caused a frenzy in the cryptocurrency community, where 17,000 crypto fans crowdfunded $40 million through the group ConstitutionDAO in the span of a week to purchase the document. Despite their efforts, the organization was outbid by Ken Griffin, the billionaire CEO of hedge fund Citadel, who purchased the U.S. Constitution copy for $43.2 million—more than double its high estimate of $20 million, and a record for any book, manuscript, historical document or printed text sold at auction. Griffin later lent the document to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Image of yellowish document in box
The first printing of the U.S. Constitution displayed during a 2021 Sotheby’s auction. Yuki Iwamura/AFP via Getty Images

Proceeds of the U.S. Constitution benefited philanthropy

Goldman, who studied education at Tufts University and the Massachusetts College of Art and went on to teach interior design and architecture at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, donated the entirety of the sale proceeds to her philanthropic foundation. Recent beneficiaries of the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation, which aims to educate young Americans on the constitutional history of the U.S., have included the Tongabezi Trust School in Zambia, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the New York Historical Society. The philanthropist’s eponymous foundation also endowed constitutional studies fellowships at the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, in addition to supporting historical simulations at the Museum of the American Revolution and funding the incorporation of Indigenous artwork at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

She served for several years as chair of the advisory board for the Jewish Theological Seminary’s (JTS) library, where she oversaw the establishment of a touring exhibition program and a lending program between JTS and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). “As you all know, Dorothy was herself a collector, who appreciated both beauty and purpose,” said JTS librarian David Kraemer in a eulogy for Goldman, before recalling a lunch meeting the two had with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after visiting the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. “This was a day of beauty, wisdom, and justice.” Ginsberg also wrote the forward for Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions, a 2020 catalog of Goldman’s collection of historical documents, which included official printings of the Stamp Act, numerous state constitutions and the House of Representative draft of the Bill of Rights, among others.

In addition to historical memorabilia, Goldman collected Chinese porcelain, American Indian baskets, Ming furniture and modern drawings, and donated to art institutions like the Met. She was also a board member of the Manuscript Society and a vice president at the Supreme Court Historical Society, which noted in a statement that Goldman’s “wit, wisdom and curiosity [will] be deeply missed.

The Philanthropic Legacy of Collector Dorothy Tapper Goldman