First book ever published in US sold for $14.2 million

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

Bay Psalm Book inside
An inside peek. Notice the old-fashioned English being used!

The most expensive printed book ever auctioned was sold to the highest bidder for a record-breaking $14.2 million on Tuesday. Published in 1640, the little book of Biblical psalms is believed to be the first book printed in what’s now the United States.

The Bay Psalm Book, of which only 11 copies exist in a variety of conditions, was sold at Sotheby’s in Manhattan. Even though it didn’t quite hit its estimated value of $15-30 million, it still beat a copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America, which held the previous $11.5 million record after being sold in 2010 at Sotheby’s.

This particular copy of the Bay Psalm Book was one of two owned by Boston’s Old South Church, where Benjamin Franklin was baptized and Samuel Adams was a member. Other copies of the book can be found at the Library of Congress, Yale University, and Brown University.

Its name comes from the fact that it was published in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a mere 20 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. The faded title page displays “The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Faithfully Translated into English Metre” and reads “Imprinted 1650” at the bottom.

In describing the Bay Psalm Book, Mark Dimunation, chief of rare books and special collections at the Library of Congress, says, “American poetry, American spirituality and the printed page all kind of combine and find themselves located in a single volume.”

In case you’re curious, the highest record for any book ever is Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Hammer, which included his scientific diagrams and writings. It sold for $30.8 million at Christie’s auction house in 1994.

Images courtesy of World Digital Library.