First American Book Now World's Most Expensive

Bay Psalm Book sold for record $14M

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 27, 2013 12:25 AM CST

(Newser) – The first book ever printed in what became the USA is now the world's most expensive printed book. One of 11 surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book has sold at auction for just over $14 million—below Sotheby's pre-sale estimate $15 million to $30 million but still millions more than John James Audubon's Birds of America sold for in 2010, NBC reports. The tiny book, a 1640 translation of the psalms from the Hebrew originals, was bought by philanthropist David Rubenstein, who plans to share it with libraries across America.

Some 1,700 copies of the book were printed by Puritan settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but it has been very rare for centuries. "It's a book that was not created to be fancy or splendid or valuable in any way other than the significance of its content," the director of Philadelphia's Rosenbach Library tells the BBC. "But because the congregation for which it was created literally used the book to death, very few of the copies have survived." It was sold by Boston's Old South Church, which once had five of the books but donated copies to Library of Congress, Yale University, and Brown University. It plans to hang on to its last one.

The Puritans wanted a version of the Book of Psalms that was a closer paraphrase of the Hebrew original than the one they had carried from England.
The Puritans wanted a version of the Book of Psalms that was a closer paraphrase of the Hebrew original than the one they had carried from England.   (AP Photo/Sotheby's)
This photo provided by Sotheby's the Bay Psalm Book, which is the first book ever printed in what is now the United States.
This photo provided by Sotheby's the Bay Psalm Book, which is the first book ever printed in what is now the United States.   (AP Photo/Sotheby's, File)
The Bay Psalm Book is the first book ever printed in what is now the United States.
The Bay Psalm Book is the first book ever printed in what is now the United States.   (AP Photo/Sotheby's, File)
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