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First Tome Printed in America to be Sold by Boston Church

The first book that was printed in America – a modest little brown book of psalms – will be auctioned in November 2013 by a Boston church and is estimated at $30m. Only eleven of the 1,700 copies printed in 1640 of the Bay Psalm Book are known to survive, and the Old South church in the heart of Boston owns two of them.

Psalm Book
Handout | Reuters

Psalm Book

The last time a copy came up for sale was in 1947, when it set a world record price for any printed book: $151,000. The psalm book was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the Congregationalist puritans who wanted a version of the psalms which they believed closer to the Hebrew original than the ones they brought with them from England. It is generally agreed to be the earliest bound true book and the first book written in America as well.

Old South Church

Nancy Taylor, senior minister and chief executive of the Old South church, said the money from the sale would allow the church to increase its grants and outreach programmes, and also to keep the historic building open and free to the public seven days a week. The congregation opposed the infamous witchcraft trials, published the first anti-slavery tract, baptised Benjamin Franklin, and hosted the meetings that led to the Boston Tea Party. The book is being sent on a touring exhibition across the US before the auction in November at Sotheby's in New York.