Familiarly known as the Bay Psalm Book, one of the finest surviving copies of the first book printed in what is now the USA is expected to become the world’s most expensive book at Sotheby’s New York in November.
Congregationalist Puritans who had
emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay colony in search of religious
freedom wanted a Book of Psalms closer to the Hebrew original than
the one they had brought from England, and such prominent figures
as John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot were among those who
worked on a new metrical translation.
Funds were raised in England and
Holland for a printing press, types, etc. by the Rev. James Glover,
who also hired Stephen Daye, a locksmith whose 18-year-old son was
an apprentice printer. Glover died on the voyage out but Daye and
his family set up the press and, probably after producing some now
lost ephemeral work, printed 1700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book in
Just 11 complete examples survive of
that first edition, which was utilitarian and in constant use. This
is one of the two currently retained by the Old South Church in
Boston and the only one previously seen at auction is one they sold
at Parke Bernet in 1947 for a record-shattering $151,000 - a price
put in context by the $22,000 paid for a First Folio Shakespeare
and £2700 for a Birds of America in that same auction
Selby Kiffer of Sotheby's has called
the Bay Psalm Book "one of the greatest artifacts of American
history" and David Redden, worldwide chairman of their book
departments, cites it as a forerunner to American
record for any printed book stands at £6.5m ($11.5m) paid at
Sotheby's London in 2010 for an Audubon Birds of America -
though some might argue that is essentially a print collection. A
Shakespeare record was set at $5.6m at Christie's New York in 2001
and back in 1987, the ex-Dyson-Perrins/Doheny copy of the first
volume only of the Gutenberg Bible sold at $4.9m.
All those sums will pale in comparison
if the Bay Psalm Book achieves anything in the $15m-30m range
suggested by Sotheby's. It will be sold in the week preceding
Thanksgiving after a 20-city US promotional tour.
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