The Harlan Crow Library.
DALLAS - After trips to Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Cleveland, Houston, and San Francisco, the Bay Psalm Book that Sotheby's will be selling on 26 November returned last week to the Lone Star State. On Wednesday, 6 November, the Bay Psalm Book – the first book printed in British North America – was the guest of honor at a reception at the Harlan Crow Library, one of the great monuments to bibliophily and book collecting in the nation.
The book has attracted so much attention not only because of its significance in the founding of America, but because no copy has appeared for sale since 1947. By attending, in their words, "Conscience rather than Elegance, fidelity rather than poetry," in translating the Hebrew original into English verse, the Puritan translators created a work that would shape the religious and cultural life of the new nation. The Bay Psalm Book was essentially a hymnal, and it was subjected to constant use. From an edition of 1,700 copies, just eleven are known today, only six of which retain their title pages. This is one of the finest surviving copies and one of two belonging to the Old South Church in Boston. The Church will use the proceeds from the sale to support its "ministries of mercy, justice and beauty to make glad the heart of God."
The title page of the Bay Psalm Book.
Scholars and collectors from many disciplines, including Old Testament studies, textual translation, American history, and printing history gathered to view the book and discuss its significance and influence. The following day the book moved to the Dallas Public Library for a public exhibition from noon until 8 pm. Earlier in the tour, at the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, the Bay Psalm Book was exhibited with another copy from the same edition; at the Dallas Public, it was exhibited with a copy of the Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence, which must have been the first conjunction of these two great icons of American printing. The book drew a steady stream of visitors right up to closing, augmented for the last two hours by students from the Episcopal School of Dallas, whose history teacher offered extra credit to anyone who came to the exhibition – to the teacher's credit, he came too.