A copy of a 393-year-old Book of Psalms published by Puritans in Massachusetts has been sold at an auction by Sotheby’s for $14.2 million to American philanthropist and financier David Rubenstein, who plans to lend it to libraries.
Known as the Bay Psalm Book, it is believed to be the first book ever to be published in the colonies that later became the United States of America.
Approximately 1,700 copies of the book were printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known then as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and only 11 are known to remain.
Nine of them are in libraries and museums, and the Old South Church in Boston disposed of one of its two copies in the auction, which has made the church a lot richer.
The church’s minister Rev. Nancy Taylor said earlier this year, “It’s a spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation’s history.
Referring to the tiny size of the book, she explained to the Associated Press, “This was a utilitarian book to sing praises to God, so you wanted to be able to fit it in your pocket and take it to church. It probably would have belonged to a single family. It’s a hymn book, made for hard use, to be sung from and held by children, mothers, fathers, widows, widowers, and… who knows? I’m sure it was in the hands of quite a few Puritan worshippers.”
The Bay Book of Psalms fetched a high price despite its containing several printing errors, such as the word “pslame” appearing on the right hand of the page while “Psalm” appears on the left side. It also uses inverted coma instead of apostrophes and has several typographical errors.
For comparison, the last time a copy of the Bay Book of Psalms was sold was in 1947, when it exchanged hands for $151,000, a higher price than other book at the time.
Tuesday’s night sale makes it the most expensive book ever to be sold in the United States, breaking the previous record of $11.5 million for a compete four-volume first edition of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” also sold by Sotheby’s.