Holy Grail of Rare Books, Hymnal Could Fetch $30M

By Alexa Valiente

Apr 12, 2013 12:49pm
ht bay psalm book nt 130412 wblog Holy Grail of Rare Books, Hymnal Could Fetch $30M

One of 11 remaining copies, the Bay Psalm Book is predicted to sell for $30 million at Sotheby's.

A rare psalm book from 1640 could fetch between $15 million to $30 million at a Sotheby’s auction on Nov. 26 in New York.

“It’s going to be far and away the most expensive book ever sold,” David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby’s auction house, told ABCNews.com.

The Bay Psalm Book, which is the first book printed in what is now the United States, comes from the Old South Church in Boston, one of two copies of the book in its collection.

“One copy, the copy we are keeping, was bequeathed to us by our fifth minister, the Reverend Thomas Prince,” Nancy Taylor, Old South Church’s senior minister and CEO, told ABCNews.com.

Sotheby’s specialists used comparables to value the book.  “We have sold books as much as $11.5 million in the past, which are far less rare than this,” Redden said.  The last Bay Psalm Book was bought at a Sotheby’s auction in 1947 for $151,000 by Yale University.

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“One is so rare, no one could conceive of just owning one,” Redden said.  “It’s the greatest rarity in the book world.  Nothing is desirable as the Bay Psalm Book.”

Old South Church’s particular Bay Psalm Book is one of the best copies and in excellent condition, but what makes it incredibly sought after is its origin.

When the Bay Psalm Book was first printed, 1,700 copies were made, and few survive.  “It would literally have been used to pieces by the early Puritans,” Redden said.

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While the Bay Psalm Book is not on everybody’s lips, Redden expects that many institutions, such as Princeton or the University of Texas, and private book collectors would desperately desire to have one.  However, he is certain that it will be an American buyer to win the auction.

“It’s a great story, the idea that in the middle of the wilderness the first Americans were able to produce a quite elaborate book,” Redden said.  “It’s the first American book made in America.”

Old South Church is hoping to use profits from the sale to help pay for building repairs and support its ministries. The church will maintain ownership of its other 2,000 rare books and manuscripts.

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Sotheby’s plans to give people many opportunities to see the hymnal and will exhibit it widely before its November auction.

“For people in the book world, this is an earthquake,” Redden said.

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