April 18, 2013

First book printed in U.S. expected to sell for millions


The Bay Psalm Book is expected to bring in millions at Sotheby’s in November.

Rare book enthusiasts, start saving up your loose change—this fall, the first book ever printed in the United States will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s, and it’s sure to cost a pretty penny. An extremely rare copy of The Whole Booke of Psalmes, also called the Bay Psalm Book, will be on exhibition in New York from November 18-26, before going up for auction on the evening of the 26th.

Alexa Valiente writes for ABC News that a copy of the book will probably end up selling for $15 million-$30 million, “far and away the most expensive book ever sold” according to Sotheby’s vice chairman David Redden. Valiente reports that 1,700 copies of the book were printed in 1640, of which only eleven survive. The last copy to go up for auction (also at Sotheby’s) was purchased by Yale University for $151,000 in 1947, but Redden is confident that the price will go up exponentially, saying, “We have sold books as much as $11.5 million in the past, which are far less rare than this… It’s the greatest rarity in the book world.  Nothing is desirable as the Bay Psalm Book.”

The Bay Psalm Book dates back to 1640, when it was printed and used by Puritans; used so rigorously, in fact, that Redden says that wear and tear is the reason that so few of the original 1,700 copies remain. There are only eleven of them left, two of which currently belong to the Old South Church in Boston, which is offering up one of them for this fall’s auction. The church’s senior minister and CEO (churches have CEOs?), Nancy Taylor, told ABC News that the other copy they have was bequeathed to them by their fifth minister, Reverend Thomas Prince, so they’re holding on to that one.

Of the eleven surviving Bay Psalm Books, the one being auctioned off is in the best condition. Redden expects that universities like Princeton and the University of Texas will be clamoring for it, along with many private collectors. So for those of you with tens of millions of dollars to blow, mark your calendars for November—and for those who don’t, the hymnal will be on display at Sotheby’s for about a week before the sale.


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.