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Booksellers predict Bay Psalm auction will be landmark moment for rare books

Two of America’s leading rare book experts predict that the forthcoming auction of a Bay Psalm Book will break new ground in the world of collectible books.

Allan Stypeck, owner of Second Story Books in Rockville, Maryland, has seen and appraised many of America’s finest collections of rare books and historical material. He believes Sotheby’s lowest estimate of $15 million will be exceeded.

“There’s a new generation of extraordinary wealthy people with an interest in cultural artifacts of immense important but it will take two of them to do it,” said Stypeck (pictured right), who sees the eventual buyer coming from the one of the new wave of technology companies that dominate today’s business world.

However, Bill Reese – an expert in Americana and owner of the bookselling company, William Reese Company – is not convinced the Bay Psalm Book will sell for $15 million but he does believe the mere sale of the book itself is a pivotal moment in today’s rare bookselling business.

“We are entering unknown territory,” Reese said. “The book is iconic. Twice before in 1879 and 1947 copies have exceeded expectations when being sold. It is impossible to predict but I do feel printed material is viewed very differently in 2013 than it was in 1947. Printed material was seen as a very special thing in 1947. Today, famous paintings sell for much more than $15 million and the Bay Psalm Book, although very important, is not a show-stopper.”

The last Bay Psalm Book to be sold was bought at a Sotheby’s auction in 1947 for $151,000 on behalf of Yale University. Both Stypeck and Reese rule out the possibility of any institution acquiring the book because of the ultra-high price.

Stypeck added: “For me, the sale of Francis Crick’s Nobel medal for $1.3 million earlier this year showed that things were changing and that sale was driven by the biomedical industry. Who wants to be associated with owning a famous American book? Birds of America by John James Audubon doesn’t even compare to the Bay Psalm Book. We regularly see copies of Birds for sale and they usually reach the estimated sale price.”

Crick won the Nobel in 1962 for his discovery of DNA. His medal was bought at auction by Jack Wang, CEO of Biomobie, a medicine technology company. A copy of The Birds of America, a masterpiece of art and ornithology, sold for $11.5 million in 2010 and another copy sold for $7.9 million in 2012.

Reese (pictured below right) suspects at least one of the bidders will come from an unexpected source.

“I think we will see a bidder from left-field – someone completely unexpected.  That happened when a Bay Psalm Book was sold in 1879 to the Vanderbilt family for $1,200 – that was unexpected. We also saw it with the On the Road scroll which was bought by the owner of Indianapolis Colts (Jim Irsay for 2.43 million in 2001).”

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