As to who might sell it it will probably go to auction although a private sale is possible. Any house can sell it but an important house will sell it. If the consignors are thinking eBay they can expect thank you notes from several hundred bidders for giving them a crack at something they cannot afford but may be able to bid on if the bidding starts low. Wherever the book is sold it will stand on its own but the quality of the supporting research and its catalogue presentation should be on a par with its importance. Under-present it and they run the risk it underperforms which could be a difference of several million dollars. Simply stated the best outcome demands the absolute best presentation. It’s not a Gutenberg that will some day bring $50 million but it is an extraordinary American icon that will effortlessly sail north of $10 million.
Why the Bay Psalm will bring so much gets into the alchemy of great bookselling. The church will be selling a book but bidders will be buying its story, its significance and rarity. Therefore making its case, explaining its importance and bringing its distinguished provenance to life will be important. That’s where the price will be determined.
The book, befitting its importance, will be the subject of a single item sale and its catalogue emphasize the history of the few copies known. Their owners read like a who’s who of the stellar collecting libraries. Of the eleven copies known only five are complete. This copy is complete with an asterisk but tastefully, and long ago, rebound. Six copies are missing pages and some of these too are rebound. When you pursue, as these institutions have, the most important books you make allowances.
For the year just completed we did not know for sure until a few days ago how the top 500 books sold in 2012 ranked. For 2013 it’s easier. We can already say the Bay Psalm will be the most expensive book sold and possibly the most expensive book ever sold.
And a few thoughts further thoughts come to mind. The book should travel – to be displayed in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. A lecture could be offered in New York at the 72nd Street Y and historians discuss it with Charlie Rose on Bloomberg Television. For Michael Moore, how about a filmed perspective? This book deserves the attention and can accomplish feats that few other printed things can: illuminate history and book collecting to an emerging generation of collectors. So, in my view this book can accomplish many things, refill the coffers at the Old South Church, earn commissions for the sellers, remind America of its history, and infuse a generation with the fire to collect. If it does these things it actually accomplishes what the congregation recently committed to do: the greatest good for the largest audience.
So here’s hoping.
Link to the Old South Church website
Link to the Old South Church's electronic copy of the Booke of Psalmes
The full text of the Parke-Bernet Sale in 1947
The full text of lot 847 in the Brinley Sale in 1879
The full description in the Crowinshield Sale in 1859