Book printed in US in 1640 sells for record $14.2 million

Bay Psalm text is one of finest surviving copies of original 1,700

A copy of the Bay Psalm Book sits in a display case at Sotheby’s auction house in New York last week. Published in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book is considered the first book printed in what was then the British colonies of North America. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

A copy of the Bay Psalm Book sits in a display case at Sotheby’s auction house in New York last week. Published in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book is considered the first book printed in what was then the British colonies of North America. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Wed, Nov 27, 2013, 20:01

The Bay Psalm Book, one of 11 surviving copies of the first book printed in America, has sold for $14.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York, setting a new world auction record for any printed book.

Although it had been estimated to fetch up to $30 million, it easily surpassed the previous mark of $11.5 million, paid in December 2010 for John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

“We are thrilled that this book, which is so important to our history and culture, is destined to be widely seen by Americans who can appreciate its singular significance,” said David Redden, chairman of Sotheby’s books department.

“We are of course also thrilled to have achieved a new world auction record price for any printed book, which affirms that books remain a vital part of our culture,” he added in a statement.

Printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bay Psalm is one of the rarest books in the world and among the finest surviving copies of original 1,700 that were printed.

It is also the first copy to be sold since 1947 when it set an auction record for a book at $151,000.

Boston’s Old South Church sold the Bay Psalm Book from its collection to cover the cost of building repairs and to fund its ministry.

It is one of two owned by the church. Members of the church, a nonprofit organisation dating back to 1669 that is a member of the Protestant denomination United Church of Christ, voted to sell the book last December.

Harvard and Yale universities and other institutions own the other existing copies.