Explore the World’s Most Expensive Printed Book: The Bay Psalm Book


Fan of the long s? Then you should enjoy the finging the pfalmes from the most expensive book ever published. Read on for some interesting facts about this record-setting publication and how you can perufe every page:

Bay Psalm Book Preface

The Bay Psalm book, a small Psalter, holds two world records. It was the first book printed in British North America, of which only 11 are known to exist, and now it has sold at Sotheby’s in New York City, for the highest price ever.

  • The price? $14,165,000, which was actually lower than some pre-auction estimates that ranged as high as $30 million.
  • The new owner? David Rubenstein, entrepreneur and philanthropist, plans to generously lend the book to libraries and exhibits. Rubenstein also bought a copy of the Magna Carta in 2007 for $21 million.
  • The printer? This book was, amazingly, printed a mere 20 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock by Stephen Day, the first colonial American printer.
  • 1,700 copies were originally printed. Only 11 are known to still exist.
  • The previous highest price paid for a Bay Psalm book? $151,000 in 1947. At the time, that was also a record for a printed book. Quite an appreciation in value!
  • Sotheby’s website includes fascinating detail about the publisher, printer and the creation of the book, its many errors and other printing details. If you are a printer, you’ll find out all about everything from watermarks, hyphenation and typesetting to quartos, folios and financing.
  • Typos? Oh yes. Even at the time, the Bay Psalm book was criticized for its poor quality of printing and abundant errors. Misspellings, inverted commas instead of apostrophes, uneven inking…. nobody’s perfect, right? A critic, over 200 years ago, noted the book “abounds with typographical errors” and said the printer “must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation.” (source)  Ouch.
  • Other firsts in 1640? The first Finnish university was founded in the city of Turku. The first European coffee house opened in Venice. Charles I (another first) was on the English throne.

And best of all… you can study every page of the Bay Psalm book online for free, courtesy of the Old South Church in Boston (the same church where Benjamin Franklin was baptized).

Digital Bay Psalm Book




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