The most expensive book ever – The Bay Psalm Book – made $14,165,000 million at Sotheby’s in New York on Tuesday evening. Printed by Puritan settlers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 it is believed to be the first book printed in America. Only 11 copies survive. The last time one was sold at auction, in 1947, it made a then record price of $151,000. The purchaser was American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who will lend it to libraries around the country. The previous record holder for the most expensive book was John James Audobon’s Birds of America which made $11.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2010.
The Bay Psalm Book was believed by Puritans to be a faithful translation into English of the original Hebrew Psalms. The book is one of two owned by Boston’s Old South Church, where Samuel Adams was a member and Benjamin Franklin was baptised. The church was established in 1699 and is one of the most historically significant in the US. It opposed the ‘witch’ trials, published the first anti-slavery tract, hosted the meetings that led to the Boston Tea Party and opened its sanctuary as a recruiting station for the Union Army. Through the centuries, Old South Church has championed abolition, civil and human rights, affordable housing, free speech, LGBT rights and equal marriage. It is an intergenerational and multicultural congregation, engaged in both direct service and justice advocacy.