Bay Psalm Book breaks auction record; Huntington to display rare tome

This file photo provided by Sotheby's and taken in New York shows what the auction house describes as "the world's most valuable book," the Bay Psalm Book.
This file photo provided by Sotheby’s and taken in New York shows what the auction house describes as “the world’s most valuable book,” the Bay Psalm Book.
(Associated Press)

A copy of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in English-speaking North America, was purchased for $14.2 million on Tuesday night at Sotheby’s in New York.

There are 11 surviving copies of “The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre,” printed in 1640. But Southern Californians don’t have to travel far to see this rare volume.

This week, the Huntington Library in San Marino has placed its own copy of the Bay Psalm Book on display. Railroad baron Henry Huntington purchased it in 1910.

In the fall, Sotheby’s took the copy of the book that just sold for a record-breaking price on a tour of the U.S., including a stop at USC’s Doheny Library.


There are 11 surviving copies of the book, which was printed in 1640. The copy sold Tuesday was one of two owned by Boston’s Old South Church.

American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein purchased it with a winning bid that was below Sotheby’s estimated sale price of $15 million to $30 million. Still, the sale easily topped the previous record of $11.5 million paid in 2010 for a copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”

The Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony printed 1,700 copies of the book in Cambridge, Mass., on a press shipped from London. The book was intended to be a more faithful translation into English of original Hebrew psalms--the Puritans believed the King James translation of the psalms to be corrupt.

Recently, the PhiloBiblos blog conducted a census of the 11 remaining copies of the book, one of which is in the possession of the Library of Congress.


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