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Home > News, Articles & Multimedia > Worth Points > Rare Bay Psalm Book, the First Book Printed in America, to be Auctioned by Sotheby’s

Rare Bay Psalm Book, the First Book Printed in America, to be Auctioned by Sotheby’s

by Special to WorthPoint (11/01/13).

One of the finest surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book—the first book printed in what is now the United States of America—will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on Nov. 26. It carries a pre-sale estimate of $15 to $30 million.

NEW YORK – One of the finest surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book—the first book printed in what is now the United States of America—will be auctioned at Sotheby’s on Nov. 26. It carries a pre-sale estimate of $15 to $30 million.

The present example comes from the collection of the Old South Church in the heart of Boston, Mass.—one of two remarkable copies presently in its collection—and the proceeds of the sale will benefit the church’s mission and ministry in the Greater Boston area. No example of the Bay Psalm Book has appeared at auction since 1947, when another copy achieved a record auction price for any printed book at the time—many multiples of what other icons of printing achieved in that period, including the Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio and Audubon’s Birds of America.

The book will be on view in Sotheby’s New York facilities in advance of the auction beginning on Nov. 18.

The book will be on view in Sotheby’s New York facilities in advance of the auction beginning on Nov. 18.

“The Bay Psalm Book was not only the first book printed in America, and the first book written in America. This little book of 1640 was precursor to Lexington and Concord, and, ultimately, to American political independence,” said David Redden, director of Special projects and worldwide chairman of Sotheby’s Books Department. “With it, New England declared its independence from the Church of England.

“The Bay Psalm Book is a mythical rarity. Unseen on the marketplace for more than two generations, it has become too rare to collect. Yet here it is today, this modest little book printed in the American wilderness but embodying the values that created our nation: political freedom and religious liberty,” Redden added.

The Whole Booke of Psalmes—universally known as The Bay Psalm Book—was produced in the virtual wilderness of Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Congregationalist Puritans who left England in search of religious freedom. A new poetical translation of the Psalms, intended to express the Hebrew original, was made by the leading scholars and ministers of colonial New England—John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot among them—and the book was printed on a press sent, with paper and type, from England for that purpose by Stephen Daye, an indentured locksmith. The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed on the press in Cambridge, Mass., in 1640.

From an original run of 1,700 copies, just 11 survive.

“With the sale of this extraordinary asset we intend to strengthen our ministries of mercy, justice, and beauty,” said Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister and CEO of Old South Church. “We hope to increase our grants and outreach programs, as well as maintain our National Historic Landmark building—open and free to the public, seven days a week—in excellent repair.”

“Of inestimable significance, The Bay Psalm Book is not simply one of the great icons of book history, it is one of the greatest artifacts of American history,” said Selby Kiffer, international senior specialist in Sotheby’s Special Projects department.


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