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:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.
  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE Typed letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Important archives related to the development of fashions for Mrs. Kennedy… $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> [CASSINI-KENNEDY FASHIONS] Detailed ledger of the Kennedy White House years… $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KELLY, GRACE. Four autograph letters to Oleg Cassini. $5,000 to $8,000
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini. June 27</b>
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Group of Kennedy-era original fashion sketches. $1,000 to $1,500
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> KENNEDY ONASSIS, JACQUELINE. Autograph letter signed to Oleg Cassini. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini:</b> CASSINI, OLEG. Fashion sketch titled “Mrs. Kennedy-Palais de Versailles-State Dinner.” $800 to $1,200
    Doyle, The Estate of Oleg Cassini: [CASSINI, OLEG - KENNEDY, JACQUELINE.] Group of approximately 130 original fashion designs… $800 to $1,200.
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930
  • <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Pushkin, Alexander. <i>Evgenii Onegin. A novel in verse.</i> A first edition of the most important work in Russian literature in its original parts, 1825–32. £120,000 to £160,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Gogol, Nikolai. <i>Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka.</i> A rare first edition of Gogol's first masterpiece, 1831–32. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Darwin, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> First edition, owned and read by two contemporaries of Darwin. London: John Murray, 1859. £140,000 to £200,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Galilei, Galileo. <i>Sidereus Nuncius.</i> First edition, announcing the first astronomical discoveries made with the telescope. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, [March] 1610. £300,000 to £500,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> The seal of Wulfric. England, first half 11th century. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Bible, <i>Ezechiel</i> in Latin. [Northern Italy, 5th century]. £120,000 to £180,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Blaeu, Jan and Willem Blaeu. <i>Grooten Atlas [Atlas Major]</i>. Amsterdam: Johannes Blaeu, 1664. £450,000 to £650,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Petites Heures of Charles VIII use of Paris, in Latin. An exquisite Hours illuminated by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse. [Paris, 1490s]. £300,000 to £500,000

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