Bay Psalm Book
This Famous Antique Game - December 2013
Sherry Blanton, Ted Carlton of Utah, and Scott and Carolyn Brown of Memories Flea An'Tique Mall in Prattville, Ala., correctly identified the The Whole Booke of Psalmes, or The Bay Psalm Book, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in November 2013 for just under $14.2 million (including buyer’s premium), the most expensive American book ever sold. The previous record holders were three copies of John Jay Audubon’s four-volume, hand-colored The Birds of America at $11.5 million, $8.8 million and $7.9 million.
The Bay Psalm Book was the first book published in North America, and this copy is one of 11 still existing and still intact books from the original printing of 1,700 copies in 1640. This copy was one of two owned by Old South Church in Boston (where Benjamin Franklin was baptized). It was sold to prepare to replenish its endowment fund for $7 million in repairs needed for the church.1
Other copies of The Bay Psalm Book are in the possession of the Library of Congress, Harvard, Yale and Brown Universities, the Rosenback Museum & Library, the American Antiquarian Society, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and the Huntington Library of California.
The title page of the Bay Psalm Book explains its purpose:
The Whole Booke of Psalmes
TRANSLATED into ENGLISH
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.
The book contains psalms translated from Hebrew and set in rhythmic meter for singing. Music was not added until a later reprinting. Stephen Daye, a locksmith who emigrated from England with his family to Cambridge, Mass., was the printer of the Bay Psalm Book.
The Bay Psalm Book was purchased by David Rubenstein, a billionaire financier, philanthropist and former domestic policy advisor to Pres. Jimmy Carter. A history buff, Rubenstein has also purchased: the last privately owned copy of the Magna Carter for $21.5 million; a July 6, 1776 copy of The Pennsylvania Evening Post which contained the first printing of the Declaration of Independence in a newspaper, paying $632,500; one of seven known Abel Buell maps, the first of the United States, for $1.8 million (which he loaned to the Library of Congress); and an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. 2
Rubenstein has given millions to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Duke University (his alma mater), earthquake repair on the Washington Monument, the National Zoo, and to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation for the rebuilding of two slave buildings and other restorations.
New York Times, “Let Bidding Begin for the Bay Psalm Book From 1640,” Nov. 15, 2013.
2 Forbes, “Billionaire History Buff David Rubenstein Buys First News Printing Of U.S. Declaration,” by Alex Morrell, June 26, 2013.