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Who will buy the Bay Psalm Book?

Perhaps we should rephrase this question? Who has $15 million to $30 million and wants to own this particular book? It’s a narrow field of potential bidders.

This copy of the Bay Psalm Book, printed in 1640, will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on November 26. It is set to become the world’s most expensive printed book and will make history, and a lot of headlines one way or another.

The Bay Psalm Book is considered to be the first book printed in what became the United States so motivated buyers are going to be keen on Americana, history and keeping this book in the US. It would be embarrassing if the book was bought by an overseas buyer considering its significance to Uncle Sam.

Many institutions such as universities would be interested in owning a copy of the Bay Psalm Book but, frankly, the price will be beyond their budgets. There are already copies in the Library of Congress, Yale, Harvard and Brown University, and also Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum.

Potential bidders will probably be limited to American billionaires, with a library of rare books, and/or corporations with an interest in owning a piece of American cultural history.

Bill Gates has the money and the track record. The technology pioneer purchased Codex Leicester by Leonardo da Vinci for $30.8 million in 1994 but used the handwritten journal to benefit Microsoft. Investor Warren Buffett would be another with the cash for such an outrageous purchase, but is he bookish enough? It would have to be a billionaire who loves books and the culture of books.

Charlie Munger, of Berkshire Hathaway, is a grand supporter of book culture. In May, he gave $32.7 million worth of his stock to the Huntington Library and Art Gallery in California. Five years ago, the New York Public Library received $100 million from Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman, who made his fortune with as the chief executive of the Blackstone Group. Now these two are wealthy bibliophiles.

We could see a technology billionaire step forward and attempt to land the book.  There is value in having your name associated with a piece of American cultural history when you are involved in changing how people communicate and interact in today’s tech-based world. Google and books are closely aligned. Facebook is, well, an Internet behemoth with the word ‘book’ in its name.

We will find out on November 26.

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