Hymnal, Believed to be First Book Printed in US, Expected to Fetch $30 Million at Auction

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By Sami K. Martin, Christian Post Reporter
April 12, 2013|7:36 am

A hymnal believed to be the first book ever printed in the United States is expected to fetch $30 million when it goes up for auction later this year. The book dates back to 1640 and is one of 11 copies of the Bay Psalm Book.

Rev. Nancy Taylor of Boston's Old South Church, which owned the book, said it was in "excellent condition" and is being sold to help revenue for ministries as well as to "strengthen our voice in general as a progressive Christian church." The church owns two copies, but only one will be put up for auction; the other will be preserved at the church.

"It's a spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation's history," Taylor told the Associated Press.

Of course, not all were pleased by the decision to sell one of the two copies.

"For 340 years, this was unthinkable," member Jeff Makholm, the church's historian, told The New York Times. "We think it's disgusting. It's breaking faith with the people who poured their energies into keeping them safe as a representation of our history."

According to reports, the Bay Psalm Book was printed by Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, hence its title, 20 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Only 1,700 copies were printed and 11 currently remain in the U.S., though they are in varying degrees of completion and condition.

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The book "is an iconic piece," noted Mark Dimunation, chief of rare books and special collections at the Library of Congress. "It's the beginning of literate America. American poetry, American spirituality and the printed page all kind of combine and find themselves located in a single volume."

"People haven't been fascinated by this book because the translation is mellifluous or beautiful. People haven't been attracted to this book because the presswork is beautiful. It's not. Here is this Puritan community that arrived and began to forge an identity for themselves. This book plays a role in the American story as almost no other book does," Michael F. Suarez, director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, told the Times.

The Bay Psalm Book is expected to fetch at least $30 million when it goes up for auction in November. For those curious about the book, or wanting to see it personally, Old South Church has digitalized a copy for their website.

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