A translation of Biblical psalms that was the first book ever printed in what became the United States goes on auction this November, with an expected price tag of $15-30 million, Sotheby’s said Friday in New York.
The book is one of the best of the 11 surviving copies of “The Bay Psalm Book,” which Puritan settlers from England printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 — before the United States even existed.
The settlers, who were seeking religious freedom, wanted chiefly to issue their own preferred translation from the Hebrew original of the Old Testament book, rather than the one they had brought across the Atlantic.
However, the volume took on even greater significance, David Redden, the head of Sotheby’s books, said.
“‘The Bay Psalm Book’ was not only the first book printed in America, and the first book written in America. This little book of 1640 was precursor to Lexington and Concord, and, ultimately, to American political independence. With it, New England declared its independence from the Church of England,” he said.
Selby Kiffer, with Sotheby’s special projects department, called “The Bay Psalm Book” “not simply one of the great icons of book history, it is one of the greatest artifacts of American history.”
No copy from the edition has appeared at auction since 1947, when a different copy fetched $151,000 — a record at the time for any book, including the Gutenberg Bible or Shakespeare’s First Folio.
“‘The Bay Psalm Book’ is a mythical rarity. Unseen on the marketplace for more than two generations, it has become too rare to collect,” Redden said.
The book is being sold by the Old South Church in Boston to benefit its work in the historic city’s area, Sotheby’s said. The same church possesses another copy of the “Bay Psalm Book.”