Rare Bay Psalm Book, worth more than $15 million, visits Los Angeles
A copy of the first book printed in the Americas, worth an estimated $15 million to $30 million, will be auctioned by Sotheby’s later this month. But first, it gets a showing at USC.
The rare Bay Psalm Book will be on display for public view Wednesday night and Thursday at USC’s Doheny Library. One of only 11 known copies, it is considered by some to be the most valuable book in the world.
Now known simply as the Bay Psalm Book, it was printed with the title “The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre” in 1640 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Puritan scholars, said to include John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot, intended the book to reflect the Hebrew text more faithfully than England’s King James version. Of the 1,700 copies originally printed, only 11 survive.
Auction house Sotheby’s estimates the book’s value at $15 million to $30 million. The last time a copy of the Bay Psalm book came up for auction was 1947, when it was valued more than a Gutenberg Bible (48 of those survive).
To print the Bay Psalm book, a British supporter raised funds in England and Holland for a press and materials. He enlisted an indentured locksmith and his 18 year-old son to take care of the printing, and the three made the journey across the Atlantic together. The financier didn’t survive, but the press, materials and printers made it to America.
This particular edition of the Bay Psalm book is understood to be the earliest to have rolled off the presses that has survived. It is one of two copies owned by the Old South Church in Boston; the church’s leaders decided to offer this copy for auction to further its progressive mission and maintain its building, a National Historic Landmark.
Sotheby’s has taken the book on a tour of the U.S. this fall as a lead-up to the book’s auction on Nov. 26.
USC’s Doheny Library will host a discussion, viewing, and reception Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; on Thursday, the book will be on display in the library from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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