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The Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640.
Associated Press/Photo by Tony Scarpetta/Old South Church in Boston
The Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640.

Bidders expected to sing the praises of 1640 hymnal, to the tune of $30M

Religion

A 6-by-five-inch hymnal, dating back to 1640, is going up for auction and could fetch as much as $30 million. The book is believed to be the first ever printed in what is now the United States.

Only 11 of the 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book exist today, each in varying degrees of completeness. Members of Boston’s Old South Church authorized the sale of one of its two copies—both in “excellent condition”—at Sotheby’s Nov. 26.

"It's a spectacular book, arguably one of the most important books in this nation's history," said the Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister and CEO of the church, which was established in 1669. Samuel Adams was a member and Benjamin Franklin was baptized there.

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The church, at one time, owned five copies of the small hymnal. One now sits in the Library of Congress, another at Yale University, and a third at Brown University.

Taylor said the church decided to sell one of its two remaining copies in an effort to increase the church’s grants, ministries, and “strengthen our voice in general as a progressive Christian church.”

The book, which came just 20 years after the Pilgrims hit Plymouth, was published in Cambridge, Mass., by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The last time a copy of the Bay Psalm Book came up for sale in 1947, it sold for a record auction price of $151,000. At the time, it surpassed auction prices for the Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare's First Folio, and John James Audubon's Birds of America.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Whitney Williams
Whitney Williams

Whitney happily serves WORLD as web editorial assistant. When she's not working from her home office in Texas, she's probably fishing or hunting with her husband.

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