1st book printed in US on display in Philly

June 18, 2013 3:34:51 PM PDT
The first book ever printed in what is now the United States of America is on display in Philadelphia.

Originally, there were 1,700 copies of the book, but now, there are only 11 known surviving copies. There are two copies here in Philadelphia and they will be on display for one day only at the Rosenbach Museum and Library.

It's the first time in memory that two copies of the Bay Psalm Book have been exhibited together. Nearly 400 years after being printed. And it is much more than just a rare book.

"It's a translation of the psalms done here in America in Massachusetts Bay done by the Puritans so they could have their own church service; it was really a religious declaration of independence," Selby Kiffer of Sotheby's said.

It was the first book in the western hemisphere to have Hebrew printing.

They are 337 years old, but are in nearly perfect condition.

"Books printed before about 1840 were printed on paper made of cotton and linen and it remains supple almost forever unlike books of today that have so much wood pulp in them," Rosenbach Museum Director Derick Dreher, Ph.D. said.

A father and son team had to be brought in from London to print the Bay Psalm Book.

A printing press, types and paper also had to be imported.

One copy is from a church in Boston.

Sotheby's expects to get between $15-million and $30-million for it, to benefit its mission and ministries.

Philadelphia's copy was purchased by Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach in 1933.

No other copies have been sold since 1947 when a book went for $151,000.

"Which may not sound like a lot today, but it was twice what a Gutenberg Bible made in 6 months or so, much more than any of the other great books," Kiffer said.

The exhibit of these two books is also significant because the project is the first between the Rosenbach and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The final terms of the merger are expected by July 1st.

The Bay Psalm Books are on exhibit Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. only at the Rosenbach Museum.


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