Tuesday, November 26, 2013

$14.2 million Bay Psalm Book auctioned!

Sotheby's in New York held an auction for what turned out to be the world's most valuable (sold) book - $14.16 million paid for one of 11 surviving copies of the rare Bay Psalm Book, which happens to be a piece of Americana gold. It's claim to fame is its history - the first book ever written and printed in what is now the United States. 

FULL TITLE: "The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God. [epigraphs from Colossians and James]. Imprinted: [at Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Stephen Day,] 1640 "

Congregationalist Puritans, who settled around Massachusetts Bay in search of religious freedom, wanted to translate and produce a version of the Book of Psalms closer to the Hebrew original than the one they had brought over from England. To distance themselves from the Church of England (one of the first demonstrations of 'religious freedom'), they published their own version: The Bay Psalm Book. 

The book auctioned Tuesday is from the collection of the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts, which had it for more than 300 years. It is one of two copies in their possession, with the sale intended to support its mission and ministry in Boston.

Philanthropist David Rubenstein purchased one of 11 surviving copies. Currently, the other 9 surviving versions of the 1,700 originally printed are in institutional collections, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, the New York Public Library and the Huntington Library in California.

The first edition of the Bay Psalm Book was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tuesday's sale is the first time since 1947 and the second time since 1894 that a copy has appeared at auction. In 1947, it achieved a higher price than any other book printed at the time, when Sotheby's sold it for $151,000.

"This little book of 1640 was a precursor to Lexington and Concord, and, ultimately, to American political independence," Redden said. "With it, New England declared its independence from the Church of England."
Even with not quite making its estimate of $15 million - $30 million, Tuesday's sale eclipses the previous auction record for a printed book, at Sotheby's London, when a copy of John James Audubon's Birds of America sold for $11.5 million in 2010.