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Recently Discovered Edition of the Bay Psalm Book Brings $221,000

Photograph Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

The book may be small, but its dual historical importance loomed large at our February 4 auction of Printed & Manuscript Americana. The previously unknown seventh edition with ties to the Salem Witch Trials brought an impressive price [$221,000.00], eclipsing its pre-sale estimate and leading the department to a sale total of just over $1 million. For more information about this Bay Psalm Book, watch this video.

 Written by Book Department Director and Americana Specialist Rick Stattler.

    Sale 2404 Lot 84 A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN EDITION OF THE BAY PSALM BOOK (BIBLE IN ENGLISH--PSALMS.) The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New-Testament . . . for the Use, Edification, and Comfort of the Saints in Publick and Private; Especially in New-England376, [6] pages. 12mo, contemporary calf, worn at extremities; minor edge wear, minor dampstaining, lacking both free endpapers, tears and repairs to flyleaves, long closed tear to leaf A3, long note in shorthand on rear pastedown; early owners' inscriptions on front pastedown and flyleaves. Boston: Benjamin Harris, 1693

     Stated 7th edition of the Bay Psalm Book--and apparently the first American printing in more than forty years, launching a long series of American editions which extended well into the 18th century. The 1640 first edition was the first book printed in North America, and the 1651 3rd edition was also done in Cambridge, MA, but most of the other early editions were produced in London or Cambridge, England (see "Timeline of Early American Editions of the Bay Psalm Book," American Antiquarian Society Almanac, March 2014). Another stated 7th edition was issued in London in 1694, with the imprint line reading "printed for Richard Chiswell at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church-Yard" and filling only 84 pages. No other copies have been traced of the present 1693 7th edition, which collates identically to the 1695 Boston 8th edition. 
     The Boston printer Benjamin Harris was noteworthy in his own right. He issued America's first newspaper in 1690, as well as the first New England Primer. The typeface he used for this title page, as well as the imprint line "Printed and sold by Benjamin Harris at the London-Coffee-House over-against the Old-Meeting-House in Boston, New-England," are similar to those used by Harris in his publications of this era such as the Boston Almanack. 
     Aside from the 1640 Cambridge first edition which recently brought eight figures, this is the earliest known American printing of the Bay Psalm Book to appear at auction since 1947. Not found in Evans, ESTC, OCLC, or auction records and apparently unique. 
Provenance: original owner Jonathan Corwin (1640-1718), one of the judges in the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, and his wife Elizabeth Corwin (her 1694 inscription); given to Elisa Kendall in 1721; property of Elizabeth Gray in 1752 and Cyrus Sull(?) in 1828. By the late 19th century, the book had passed into the consignor's family in western New York. Being descendants of Salem witch trial victim John Proctor, they kept the book as an heirloom, and it has since been known in the family as "the witch book." Price Realized: $221,000.00

For more information, or to consign materials, contact Swann Auction Galleries/Book Department Director and Americana Specialist Rick Stattler. 212/254-4710 ext. 27

 * Passed Time would like to thank Swann Auction Galleries and Rick Stattler for use of their image and article. 













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