Bay Psalm Book is most expensive printed work at $14.2m

A close look at the world's most expensive printed book

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A tiny book of psalms from 1640 has become the world's most expensive printed book as it was auctioned in New York for $14.2m (£8.8m).

The Bay Psalm Book is the first known book to be printed in what is now the United States.

It was published in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The book was meant to be a faithful translation into English of the original Hebrew psalms.

But it is not the most expensive book ever - that title goes to a handwritten Leonardo da Vinci notebook which sold for $30.8m in 1994.

'Spectacular'

Sotheby's, which auctioned the Bay Psalm Book on Tuesday night, said it had been bought by US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who planned to loan it to libraries across the country.

Expensive books and manuscripts

  • Codex Leicester: Leonardo da Vinci's handwritten, bound notebook. Early 16th Century. Sold for $30.8m in 1994
  • RothschildBook of Hours: Handwritten, illustrated prayerbook. Early 16th Century. Sold for $14.3m in 1999
  • Magna Carta: Widely distributed but handwritten and unbound. Late 13th Century copy sold for $21.3m in 2007
  • Birds of America: Book of hand-coloured prints by naturalist and painter John James Audubon. Early 19th Century. Sold for $11.5m in 2010

It was sold by Boston's Old South Church, where Founding Father Benjamin Franklin was baptised and meetings that led to the Boston Tea Party were hosted.

It is one of 11 copies known to remain in existence out of about 1,700 copies originally printed.

The Old South Church has one other copy, which it says it has no plans to sell.

The other nine books are prized items in major collections or libraries.

The Reverend Nancy Taylor, senior minister of the church, said in April: "It's a spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation's history."

Numerous mistakes

A copy of the Bay Psalm Book set a record in 1947 when it sold for $151,000, dwarfing prices paid around the same time for a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare First Folio.

The Bay Psalm Book has achieved its status despite criticism early on about its quality.

The inking of the type is uneven, and there are numerous printing mistakes.

The top of the left-hand page carries the word "psalm" and a number in Roman numerals, but on the right hand page it appears as "psalme". Inverted commas are used in place of apostrophes.

Publisher and author Isaiah Thomas noted 200 years ago that it "abounds with typographical errors" and "does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation."

Bay Psalm Book

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