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

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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

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'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.
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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.

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