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Rare Book of Psalms Sells for Record $14.16 Million

The world's most valuable printed book was auctioned Tuesday. Printed 1640, it is thought to be first book printed in what is now the US.
By Ari Yashar
First Publish: 11/27/2013, 1:44 PM

Illustration: the book of psalms
Illustration: the book of psalms
Flash 90

On Tuesday a rare copy of the Book of Psalms (Tehillim) printed in 1640 was sold in an auction at Sotheby's in New York for $14.16 million, making it the most valuable printed book in the world. The 'Bay Psalm Book' is the first book ever printed in what is now the US.

The auctioned book, one of 11 surviving copies, was purchased by philanthropist David Rubenstein, who "plans to share it with the American public by loaning it to libraries across the country, before putting it on long-term loan at one of them," according to Sotheby's.

Rubenstein, who is Jewish and a co-founder of the Carlyle Group, has a net worth of $2.6 billion as of September according to Forbes.

According to the Talmud most of the psalms, known as Tehilim in the original Hebrew, were written by King David who ruled in Israel roughly 3,000 years ago, although some were written by different authors at other times.

The Christian "Puritans" who printed the rare book of psalms intended it to be a more faithful translation into English of the Hebrew original than the versions they brought from England, according to CNN.

Regarding the book, David Redden, vice chairman of Sotheby's, said "it's so very valuable because it is the beginning of Western civilization in our country."

Redden added "this little book of 1640 was a precursor to Lexington and Concord, and, ultimately, to American political independence. With it, New England declared its independence from the Church of England."

The Bay Psalm Book was sold by the Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts. It had been with them over 300 years. ABC reports that the church, established in 1669, included Samuel Adams, one of the founding fathers of the United States, as a member, and was the site of Benjamin Franklin's baptism.

This sale marks the first time a copy of the book has appeared at an auction since 1947, when its sale price of $151,000 set records for the time.