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The ultimate philanthropist: David Rubenstein spends $14.2m on Bay Psalm Book

As predicted by almost everyone, this small book of psalms from 1640, known as the Bay Psalm Book, has become the world’s most expensive printed book after being auctioned by Sotheby’s last night in New York for $14.2 million.

The Bay Psalm Book is the first known book to be printed in what became the United States. Sotheby’s reported the buyer was US financier and philanthropist David Rubenstein, who planned to loan it to libraries. That’s a special gesture from a very rich man but we have seen it before. In 2007, Rubenstein purchased a copy of the Magna Carta at auction for $21.3 million, and then loaned it to the National Archives in Washington DC.

A remarkable piece of Puritan and American history, the book is an English translation of the original Hebrew psalms, and was owned by a church in Boston. The book sold is one of 11 copies known to exist from about 1,700 copies originally printed.

Leonardo da Vinci’s handwritten notebook is the most expensive book ever sold at $30.8 million.

So who is David Rubenstein?

He is the co-founder of The Carlyle Group, a private equity investment firm and, according to Forbes, he is apparently worth $3 billion although I’m never sure how those figures are calculated. He also has an amazing track record of donating to good causes – $4.5 million to the US National Zoo for its panda reproduction program (goodness, those pandas need a lot of financial encouragement to get it on), $7.5 million to repair the Washington Monument, $13.5 million to the National Archives, and $50 million to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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Richard Davies

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