This is the world's most expensive book. You are looking at the Bay Psalm Book printed in 1640, which sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $14.2 million on November 26, 2013.

The auction firm estimated the sale price would be between $15 million and $30 million - but the final price still ensured it became the world's most expensive printed book. The world's most expensive paper document is Leonardo da Vinci's journal, Codex Leicester, which sold for $30.8 million in 1994.

The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in what became the United States and this copy was owned by the Old South Church in Boston. And guess what? The church also has another copy that will not be sold. At one time, this church owned FIVE copies.

This Bay Psalm Book now belongs to financer and philanthropist David Rubenstein who plans to loan it to various libraries across the United States.

The last Bay Psalm Book to be sold before this one was bought at a Sotheby's auction in 1947 for $151,000 by representatives bidding on behalf of Yale University.

Click each image to view a larger copy of the Bay Psalm Book






So what's all the fuss about? First, this book has huge historical value to America. Second, it's very rare as only 1,700 copies were printed and just 11 survive, and, finally, this copy is in remarkable condition considering its age.

And what's in the book? The Bay Psalm Book is a psalter, a book of psalms. Psalters can be illuminated with miniatures and decorated initials, and psalters, also known as psalteriums, have been produced since medieval times. Most branches of Christianity have their own versions of psalters.

Over the centuries, there have been many famous psalters such as the Canterbury Psalter, St. Albans Psalter and the Psalterium Romanum.


Related Video

AbeBooks Visits America's First Printed Book Play Video



This particular psalter being auctioned - printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 20 years after the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers - has little decoration with its psalms translated into English from the original Hebrew text.

Leading scholars and ministers of colonial New England - John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot among them - helped to produce the book on a press sent, along with paper and type, from England by Stephen Daye, an indentured locksmith.




The Bay Psalm Book may be beyond your budget but there is a multitude of psalters, including many facsimiles (both rare edition and cheap reprints) of original editions, for sale on AbeBooks.


Psalters on AbeBooks

AbeBooks Visits America's First Printed Book:



What is the oldest book you've ever seen?


More to Explore




Small Talk about Miniature Books Rare Veterinary Books Basic Guide to Book Collecting