The first edition, printed in 1830, is most precious to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because Joseph Smith, the faith’s founder, personally oversaw its production in a small storefront printer’s shop in Palmyra, N.Y. Thousands of Mormons visit a restored version of the shop in Palmyra each year.
On a dark, damp and expensive Tuesday night at Sotheby’s auction house in Manhattan, one of the 11 surviving copies of the Bay Psalm Book, the first book (and the first book of Scripture) printed in English in America, was sold for the highest price ever recorded for a print book in open sale.
The $14.2 million price (a bid of $12.5 million, plus fees) exceeded by more than a million dollars the $11.5 million paid for the previous record-holder, John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” in 2010.
The psalm book’s new owner is the private equity fund founder and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who called in his bid from Australia. According to Sotheby’s auctioneer David Redden, who gaveled down the sale in two and a half minutes of concerted bidding, Rubenstein, a well-known antiquities buyer and donator, intends to lend the ancient Puritan hymnal to libraries around the country, eventually putting it on long-term loan to one of them.