Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2013 Issue

The Bay Psalm Book at Auction: Estimated $15 to $30 million

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More words have been written about this book than there are words in the book.  It had a courageous start as The Whole Booke of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre.  Over time, while its moniker shortened to The Bay Psalm Book, its reputation and stature increased.  Within the rarified world of the exceptionally important it is for early American books what “the Babe” is for baseball aficionados:  mythical, mystical.  This is the first book printed in British North America.

    

Here is how the Library of Congress describes it.  “Known as The Bay Psalm Book, but really titled The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, it represents what was most sacred to the Puritans--a faithful translation of God's Word, to be sung in worship by the entire congregation. Other Protestant denominations relied on selected paraphrases of the Scripture, but the Puritans believed this could compromise their salvation. The same faith that compelled them to leave England and strike out for the New World prompted them to commit this text to print before all others.”

 

The most recent copy at auction came up in 1947 and was the subject of dispute.  Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach, the exceptional book dealer with a commitment from Yale for $105,000, in the heat of battle at Park-Bernet went all the way to $151,000 to buy it, then had to raise additional money to pay for it when Yale balked.  That copy stands today as one of the great gems in the Beinecke Collection and as a reminder that the greatest booksellers know their books well and the future even better.  Rosenbach, in exceeding Yale’s instructions, made the right decision but it would take a year or so for the field to recognize what he instinctively knew:  the very best must be acquired when it is possible.  Who handles the bids in the upcoming sale will be equally important.  People with the money to buy greatly outnumber the rarified community with the courage to do so.  History says the buyer will treasure the prize but there will be questions and doubters in the near term.  The Bay Psalm is not for the faint hearted.  Nor should it be.

 

The most recent exchange of this book took place in 1966 when the Van Sinderen family presented their copy to the Library of Congress.  The presenter, the late Jean Van Sinderen Henry, was bookseller Bill Reese’s godmother.

 

The next copy comes up on November 26th at Sothebys in New York.  It comes from the vaults of the Old South Church in Boston for whom it is both diadem of their exceptional history and talisman for the broadening ministries they envision possible with the proceeds.   It can be fairly said that who buys this book improves the world.

 

In preparation the book has been on tour, being exhibited at many of the principal libraries and collecting associations in the United States, in total at a dozen locations.  The tour is unprecedented but the book itself is so steeped in history no special arrangements and special events seem excessive.  Like Halley’s comet we can predict another copy will someday come to market but it will be our grandchildren who will hear of it.  For this and the next generation this is the only chance we get.

 

For the collecting fields the Bay Psalm has already served collectors well by raising awareness.  Some new players are probably already pawing the ground but it is very difficult to buy the best right out of the gate.  Many though will be interested.

 

After an extensive tour of the United States, this copy will present itself for sale at Sotheby’s on November 26th.  Its last stop before its exhibition at Sotheby’s headquarters is at the Grolier Club, itself a royal setting for this royal book.   It has been a busy year. 

 

Exhibition Locations

 

Philadelphia, Rosenbach Museum & Library

Chicago, Newberry Library

St. Louis, Mercantile Library

Cleveland, Cleveland Public Library

Houston, Museum of Fine Arts (Bayou Bend)

San Francisco, the Bentley Reserve

Dallas, Dallas Public Library

Seattle, Amazon

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

Los Angeles, Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California

New York City, Grolier Club

New York City, Sothebys, 1334 York Ave

 

For the serious and seriously wealthy collector of American books and history, the upcoming sale of the Old South Church’s copy of the first printed book in British North America, the 11th copy known, the Bay Psalm is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  This is not a pedestrian rarity.  It is important and unique and examples almost never appear, the other 10 the prized possessions of important institutions.  When sometime in the future another copy comes to market it too will invariably sell, setting records as it does, then to settle into the vault of a great library or museum or possibly a great collector.  That will be then.  For this era the moment is now.

 

Let’s hope that this generation’s Rosenbach is in the room and authorized to bid to the sun.  When all is over the winner will achieve lasting recognition, the under bidder the lasting gratitude of the Church.  In a hundred years the winning bidder’s name will have been woven into this volume’s provenance.  The acquirer will have pursued history, captured it, and in time become part of it. 

 

David Redden, Worldwide Chairman of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s, describes the Bay Psalm as “the most famous book in America that no one has ever heard of.”  He has done a lot to change that.  On November 26th we’ll learn how much.

 

Links:

Once in a Lifetime - An AE Story published in January 2013

 

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

 

The full online catalogue at Sothebys.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.

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