This copy then disappeared for most of 60 years then to reemerge in 1947 to be purchased at auction by A. S. W. Rosenbach on behalf of friends of Yale University who had authorized a bid of $85,000 and were later disappointed to learn that Mr. Rosenbach, on their behalf, paid $151,000. Arguments ensued but the outcome was upheld and Yale received an exceptional copy and at some point stopped groaning. Their concerns were not unjustified. At that time, $151,000 was equal to tuition, room and board for 125 students for a full year.
Recently David Redden, Vice President of Sotheby’s and head of Books and Manuscripts of the 268-year-old auctioneer inspected the church’s copies and pronounced the one proposed for sale to be worth up to $25 million. He no doubt has it right. The only question is whether the purchaser will be Bill Gates, Steve Wynn or another very wealthy individual whose name may not be disclosed for a generation. If Mr. Wynn is the buyer the book will be displayed at one of his casinos tastefully positioned between a Monet and Houdini’s handcuffs.
While the price may reach nicely into 8 digits the substantial commission will be the outcome of a discussion between serious parties on both sides. At $10 million the stated commission at Sotheby’s is $1,282,500. Experience suggests some accommodation is possible. In any event other houses will offer attractive proposals and the church will have its pick.
This said, there is a certain alchemy to auction presentation and sale and all houses do not do this equally well. If the church wants, and in my opinion the book deserves, a regal presentation it will have fewer choices and the options will be complicated. Therefore while the church can pray for help I suggest they also retain two knowledgeable negotiators. Logically auction houses in the running should have existing good relations with the logical bidders. Rapport engenders trust and trust will be the currency most needed when decisions are made about bids.
As to who might buy it I suggested to Bailey that of the nine institutions that own a copy, many are noticeably not as good as the example to be sold and therefore they may be interested. To this he said, “No, institutions with lesser copies rarely trade up. They are happy to have a copy, any copy, even if it’s only a substantial fragment.” He believes a private collector will purchase it and Bill Reese agrees. I mentioned Bill Gates and Bailey said he too had him first on his list. “Such a book requires a longer perspective that looks beyond money to the symbolic value of such a commitment.” For Mr. Gates, a collector of serious books who has committed billions to eradicating malaria in Africa, a commitment to America’s first book, whose sale will directly support the Old South Church's outreach programs, seems highly plausible. As well, Steve Green, owner of the craft chain Hobby Lobby has an extraordinary collection of Bibles, is building a museum for them in Washington and may find this book irresistible.