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June 27, 2022

The Bay Psalm Book

Can you imagine paying over 14 million dollars for a single book? When a first-edition Bay Psalm Book went up for auction in 2013, it fetched a record-setting amount because of the unique place it holds in American history. Colonists brought several Psalters with them to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But when they became dissatisfied with the translation, a committee of Puritan ministers set out to create a new one. In 1640, about 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were printed on American soil. But the printing was filled with errors. Some of the pages were upside down. Other pages were in the wrong order. The translation itself is awkward to modern readers. Since the Puritans meant for this scripture to be sung a cappella, the psalms are in metered rhyme. For example, Psalm 23 reads: “The Lord to me a shepherd is, want therefore shall not I, He in the folds of tender-grass, doth cause me down to lie.” Needless to say, the Bay Psalm Book is valued less for the quality of its printing or translation and more for its singular place in American history. It was the first book printed in British North America, and today, only a handful of complete copies are known to survive.

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