1640 Bay Psalm Book

Most expensive American printed book

This Little Book Made Publishing History

Its creators only sought spiritual guidance, yet the 1640 Bay Psalm Book etched an outsized mark as both the first book published in America and the most expensive printed work ever auctioned for $14.2 million – a testament to the power of books to shape history across centuries.

In 1640s America, books were rarer than rain in a drought. But the early Puritan settlers, thirsty for guidance, crafted the first bestseller born in the British colonies that still fetches millions today.

The 1640 Bay Psalm Book is a collection of psalms translated into English. It’s famous for being the first book ever printed in what is now the United States.

Spartan Beginnings

Imagine hand-stitching your own book today word for word. That’s exactly how the creators of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book started before a printer arrived in their fledgling Boston community. These early Puritans relentlessly rendered Scripture into meter for singing psalms, producing the first book published in British North America.

Over 3 centuries later, this modest book made history again by shattering records as the world’s most expensive printed work ever auctioned. What made its tiny 4 inch by 6 inch miniature pages so valuable?

Of the 1,700 original copies, only 11 survive intact today. Its small size reflected cost-saving measures but created outsized historical ripples. Despite early Puritan frowns on ornament, the Bay Psalm Book symbolized American publishing independence and Bible accessibility.

God Bless Bibliophiles

In November 2013, the Old South Church in Boston parted with one of its two Bay Psalm Book copies through Sotheby’s auction house, trusting funds could better serve the congregation. Similar church copies of historical treasures sold for just thousands before.

Bidding started at a cool $6 million. But two determined collectors soon dueled back and forth relentlessly before David Rubenstein emerged victorious, claiming the tiny tome for $14.2 million! Prior auction records for a printed book seemed like used paperback prices in comparison.

For such a diminutive work, this understated book reached dazzling heights of value thanks to cultural meaning outweighing modest aesthetic frills. Its well-worn pages contain the seeds of American literary promise that found fertile ground to sprout 250 million words daily now.

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