The tiny Bay Psalm Book has become the world’s most expensive printed book as it was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York for $14.2 million.
The Bay Psalm Book was printed in 1640 and is the first known book to be printed in what is now the US.
The book was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
It was meant to be a faithful translation into English of the original Hebrew psalms.
But it is not the most expensive book ever – that title goes to a handwritten Leonardo da Vinci notebook which sold for $30.8 million in 1994.
Sotheby’s said it had been bought by financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who planned to loan it to libraries across the country.
The book was sold by Boston’s Old South Church, where Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was baptized and meetings that led to the Boston Tea Party were hosted.
It is one of 11 copies known to remain in existence out of about 1,700 copies originally printed.
The Old South Church has one other copy, which it says it has no plans to sell.
The other nine books are prized items in major collections or libraries.
The Reverend Nancy Taylor, senior minister of the church, said in April: “It’s a spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation’s history.”
A copy of the Bay Psalm Book set a record in 1947 when it sold for $151,000, dwarfing prices paid around the same time for a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare First Folio.
The Bay Psalm Book has achieved its status despite criticism early on about its quality.
The inking of the type is uneven, and there are numerous printing mistakes.
The top of the left-hand page carries the word “psalm” and a number in Roman numerals, but on the right hand page it appears as “psalme”. Inverted commas are used in place of apostrophes.
Publisher and author Isaiah Thomas noted 200 years ago that it “abounds with typographical errors” and “does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation”.
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