America’s First Printed Book Sold, Now It’s Also the World’s Most Expensive Book

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 26 2013 8:28 PM

Now America’s First Printed Book Is Also the World’s Most Expensive

452158221
'The Bay Psalm Book' at Sotheby's in New York.

Photo by TIMOTHY CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The first book to be printed in the United States went up for auction in New York on Tuesday, selling for more than $14 million. That makes the "The Bay Psalm Book” the most expensive in the world, according to Sotheby’s.

The book, which is a translation of Biblical psalms, actually predates the founding of the United States, as it was printed by Puritan settlers in Massachusetts, who embarked on creating their own translations of the Hebrew Old Testament. Here’s more background on the rare book from the New Yorker:

Translated directly from Hebrew into English, the Bay Psalm Book was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640, less than twenty years after the Mayflower left Plymouth, England. It was the first book printed on the Puritan minister Joseph Glover’s press, the first such device to make the journey across the Atlantic. Although Glover died during the 1638 crossing, his widow, Elizabeth, inherited the press and saw to its installation. She established America’s first print shop in a little house on what is now Holyoke Street in Cambridge.
Advertisement

Only 11 copies of the book, some unfinished, are in existence today, according to the Associated Press. The auctioned copy was previously held by Boston’s Old South Church before it was purchased by American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein on Tuesday. (You can thumb through a digital copy here.) Rubenstein plans to lend the book to libraries around the country, according to the AP.

The book was expected to sell for between $15 and $30 million. The ultimate sale price of $14.2 million easily surpasses the previous record set by a copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” which sold for $11.5 million in 2010, according to the New Yorker.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

Even if You Don’t Like Batman, You Might Like Gotham

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How Moscow’s Anti-War March Revealed One of Russia’s Deepest Divides

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 7:46 PM Azealia Banks’ New Single Is Her Best in Years
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.