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The Bay Psalm Book

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The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. Whereunto is prefixed a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God. [epigraphs from Colossians and James]. Imprinted: [at Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Stephen Day,] 1640

4to (174 x 104 mm). collation: *–**2, A–V W X–Z Aa–Ll4 (-Ll4): 147 (of 148) leaves (lacking errata); 37 sheets. The signing of the sheets betrays the printer's inexperience: both V and W were used as signatures and the first two sheets, A–B, were fully signed (e.g. A, A2, A3, A4); from C onward to the end, and including the two preliminary gatherings presumably printed last, the standard signing of the first 3 of 4 leaves was used, with errors: K3 signed K; R2 unsigned; S2 unsigned; Dd1 signed D; Gg2 signed Gg3 (note: S2 is not signed because the signature line is entirely occupied by text, so there was no room to set the signature and catchword. Similarly, K1r and N2r have the last line of text, signature, and catchword all set on the same line.) Sheet D inverted in reiteration and so printed (see below). Kk1.4 bound in reverse, possibly during 1850 rebinding.

Standard page: 31 lines + headline + signature line. Principal text type is 95 English Roman.

All errata, save one, are corrected by a contemporary hand. Additionally, the first verse of Psalm 100 (Z4v) has a contemporary manuscript emendation.

Binding: Mid-nineteenth-century black morocco over bevelled boards, probably Bostonian, the covers panelled in blind, spine in six compartments, gilt-lettered psalmes in the second and imprinted | 1640 in the sixth, marbled endpapers, gilt edges, corners bumped, joints and hinges repaired. A pencilled note on the verso of the front free endpaper by Samuel T. Armstrong, a deacon of Old South Church, records that "This book was bound at the cost of Mr. Ed. Crowninshield and given in Exchange for no. 259 in the [1847] Catalogue. Jan. 1850."

Provenance: Stephen Northup (d. 1687) of North Kingston, Rhode Island (notations on title-page verso) — Old South Church in Boston, possibly acquired by Joseph Sewall. Item 112 in the 1847 Prince Library catalogue and with shelf-mark 10.4.11.

Condition: Title-page lightly silked on verso with minor marginal loss just touching ornamental border; *2–3 reinforced at inner margin; **4 repaired at inner margin, with small loss to lower fore-edge corner, and silked on blank verso; K1 with tiny loss at lower margin; W3v–W4r with small ink blot; Kk4 with 3 tiny holes costing bits of 4 letters; Ll3 shaved close at fore-edge verso just touching verse numbers; Ll3 with loss at lower fore-edge corner costing about 6 words; some browning throughout, occasional minor marginal chips or tears, a few tiny scattered ink-holes.


Works Consulted

Amory, Hugh. Bibliography and the Book Trades: Studies in the Print Culture of Early New England (ed. David D. Hall). Philadelphia, 2005

Amory, Hugh. First Impressions: Printing in Cambridge,1639–1989. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989

Boynton, Henry Walcott. Annals of American Bookselling 1638–1850.New York, 1932

Bremer, Francis J. First Founders: American Puritans and Puritanism in an Atlantic World. Durham, New Hampshire, 2012

Bremer, Francis J. Puritanism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2009

Cole, George Watson. A Catalogue of Books relating to the Discovery and Early History of North and South America forming a Part of the Library of E. D. Church. Volume III: 1626–1676. New York, 1907

Daniell, David. The Bible in English: Its History and Influence.New Haven and London, 2003

Dorenkamp, John H. “The Bay Psalm Book and the Ainsworth Psalter,” in Early American Literature, vol. 7, no. 1 (Spring 1972): 3–16

Eames, Wilberforce. “Introduction,” in The Bay Psalm Book: being a Facsimile Reprint of the First Edition, Printed by Stephen Daye at Cambridge, in New England in 1640. [New York, 1903]

Eames, Wilberforce. “A List of Editions of the ‘Bay Psalm Book’ or New England Version of the Psalms,” in Joseph Sabin, Bibliotheca Americana 16 (1885): 27–36

Hall, David D. A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England. New York, 2013

Harasziti, Zoltán. The Enigma of the Bay Psalm Book. Chicago, 1956

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Founding of Harvard College. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1933

Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Intellectual Life of Colonial New England. Ithaca, New York, 1956

[Old South Church Library.] Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince, former Pastor of Old South Church. Presented by Him to the Old South Church and Society. Boston, 1846

[Old South Church Library.] Catalogue of the American Portion of the Library of the Rev. Thomas Prince. With a Memoir, and List of his Publications, by Wm. H. Whitmore. Boston, 1868

[Old South Church Library.] The Prince Library. A Catalogue of the Collection of Books and Manuscripts which formerly belonged to the Reverend Thomas Prince, and was by him Bequeathed to the Old South Church, and is now Deposited in the Public Library of the City of Boston. Boston, 1870

Parker, Wyman W. Henry Stevens of Vermont: American Rare Book Dealer in London, 1845–1886. Amsterdam, 1963

Stallings, Louise Russell. The Unpolished Altar: The Place of the Bay Psalm Book in American Culture.Texas A & M University dissertation, 1977

Stevens, Henry. Recollections of James Lenox and the formation of his Library (rev. Victor Hugo Paltsits). New York, 1951

Starkey, Lawrence Granville. A Descriptive and Analytical Bibliography of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Press from its Beginnings to the Publication of Eliot’s “Indian Bible” in 1663. University of Virginia dissertation, 1949

Swan, Bradford F. “Some Thoughts on the Bay Psalm Book of 1640, with a Census,” in The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 22, no. 3 (January 1948): 51–76

Thomas, Isaiah. The History of Printing in America. Worcester, 1810

Van Sinderen, Adrian. Foundation Stones. New York, 1952

Wallace, Robert. “A Very Proper Swindle,” in Life, vol. 37, no. 21 (22 November 1954): 95–106

Winship, George Parker. The Cambridge Press 1638–1692: A Reëxamination of the Evidence concerning the Bay Psalm Book and the Eliot Indian Bible as well as other Contemporary Books and People. Philadelphia, 1945

Winship, Michael P. Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2012

Wolf, Edwin, 2nd, with John F. Fleming. Rosenbach: A Biography. Cleveland and New York, 1960


Census of Copies of the Bay Psalm Book,
with Provenance, Sale, and other Relevant Histories


The present copy.

Amory [9]; Haraszti 4; Swan [5b]; Eames 5. Presumably No. 112 in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince and with Old South shelf-mark 10.4.11.


184 x 108 mm. 148 leaves (complete; portion torn from Ee1 costing portions of 27 lines and catchword recto). Bound in nineteenth-century black pebbled morocco, front cover gilt-lettered old south church | library.

i. Thomas Prince (acquisition note on title-page verso: “T. Prince. Milton [Massachusetts]. 9 & 10 1728”; New-England-Library bookplate, with later accomplishment possibly by Joseph Sewall).

ii. The Old South Church in Boston (bequest of Prince, 1758).

Amory [3]; Haraszti 3; Swan [5a]; Eames 4. No 132 in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince and with Old South shelf-mark 10.4.8. Psalms 1 and 3 are annotated by Prince with variant readings from the 1647 reprint edition. Errata uncorrected.


171 x 108 mm. 138 (of 148) leaves, lacking *1-4, **1-2, Ll1-4. Bound in late nineteenth-century black pebbled morocco.

i. John Leverett (signature, N1v), possibly the nineteenth governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, whose daughter Elizabeth married Elisha Cooke; if so, then by descent to the latter’s grandson:

ii. Middlecott Cooke, a member of the Harvard class of 1723.

iii. Harvard College (bookplate reading “Probably The Gift of Middlecott Cooke, Esq. of Boston, Oct. 1764”).The Harvard College library was largely destroyed by a fire in January 1764. The Bay Psalm Book likely came to Harvard as part of the subsequent book drive to rebuild the collection.

Amory [2]; Haraszti 10; Swan [9]; Eames 6. Sheet D inverted in reiteration and so printed. Errata uncorrected.

Sotheby’s is grateful to John Overholt, Curator of the Donald and Mary Hyde Collection, Houghton Library, for his assistance with this description.


174 x 108 mm. 148 leaves (complete; lower portion of Ll4 lost but not affecting text). Bound in contemporary calf.

i. Richard Mather, one of the translators (signature, “Richard Mather His Booke,” on front and rear fly-leaves); likely by descent to:

ii. Samuel Mather; likely by descent to:

iii.Increase Mather; likely by descent to:

iv. Cotton Mather.

v. Thomas Prince (New-England-Library bookplate). Probably acquired about 1728, when Cotton Mather’s library was dispersed.

vi. The Old South Church in Boston (bequest of Prince, 1758).

vii. Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff (exchanged by the Old South Church for two books from Shurtleff's collection in January 1860). Sold by Shurtleff’s estate, 12 October 1876, in a single-lot sale by Boston auctioneer Joseph Leonard, to:

viii. Sidney S. Rider, Providence bookseller, for $1,025. Sold by Rider, for an undisclosed sum, to:

ix. C. Fiske Harris. After Fiske’s death, sold by Rider, in 1881, to:

x. John Carter Brown for $1,500 and several “valuable” books.

xi. The John Carter Brown Library at Brown University (transferred, 1901).

Amory [7]; Haraszti 1; Swan [2]; Eames 1. No 579 (perfect copy) in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince and with Old South shelf-mark 10.4.9. Errata corrected, with some other contemporary emendations. Digitized on the World Digital Library (http://www.wdl.org/en/item/2834/zoom/).

The alienation of this copy from the Old South Church was clouded in controversy. On 30 December 1859, N. B. Shurtleff, a Boston physician, politician (he was elected mayor in 1867), and book collector, proposed an exchange of books to Loring Lathrop, one of the deacons of Old South: “I am very desirous of obtaining one of the duplicate copies of the Old Bay Psalm Book belonging to the Old South Library, having a strong veneration for the old volume. I think I have books in my library, such as would be not only appropriate for the library of the Old South Church, but also valuable for reference and for use of those who may rely upon the library for works suitable to be consulted. Among the books which I happen to think of are the original editions of Winthrop’s ‘New England’ and Belknap’s ‘New England Bibliography,’ appropriate, I think, for Prince’s ‘New England Library,’ and which I would gladly give in exchange for one of the duplicates.”

The exchange was made and seems to have been relatively unremarked upon until Shurtleff’s death in 1874. Then his library was consigned to Leonard & Co., with the Bay Psalm Book featured as lot 1356 in the catalogue of his estate, the sale of which was scheduled for 30 November–2 December 1875. However, the deacons of Old South brought a bill in equity against the executrix of the Shurtleff estate to recover this copy of The Whole Booke of Psalms because the librarian of the Prince Library, G. F. Bigelow, maintained that it was understood that the volume was to be returned to the Church after Shurtleff’s death. Shurtleff’s widow countered that her husband had obtained the book “by sale or barter” in an arrangement that was “fair and proper.” An injunction was issued that postponed the sale of the Bay Psalm Book, but the Church’s suit was eventually dismissed under the Statute of Limitations.

Leonard put the book on the block on 12 October 1876, noting on the cover of the special pamphlet-catalogue that “The ownership of [the Bay Psalm Book] has been adjudged to the estate of the late N. B. Shurtleff, M.D.” The sale, due in no small part to the litigation, attracted a large crowd and a great deal of press coverage. The Providence Journal reported that the auctioneer was the target of “jocose inquiries” as to whether there were any “‘large paper copies’ … or whether he would not ‘sing a psalm.’” The bidding opened at $100; was jumped to $500; then steadily increased by one-hundred-dollar increments to $1,000, when Rider carried the day with a final $25 advance. It is worth noting that the main sale of Shurtleff’s library the previous year had contained five further copies of the two works that he traded for the Bay Psalm Book, three of the Winthrop and two of the Belknap; they sold for a combined $7.37.

The JCB copy had the good fortune to be sent to Francis Bedford for rebinding when the binder was ill. Rather than leave the volume in Bedford's shop indefinitely, Brown was contented to leave his copy in its contemporary calf covers. Following the fashion of the day, Bedford had previously bound, at the behest of Henry Stevens, the copies now at Yale and the New York Public Library, both of which had been in early, if not original, bindings.

Sotheby’s is grateful to Ken Ward, Maury A. Bromsen Curator of Latin American Books, John Carter Brown Library, for his assistance with this description.

176 x 108 mm. 146 (of 148) leaves, lacking *1 and Ll4. Bound in contemporary vellum over wastepaper boards.


i. William Bentley (acquisition note in his “Book Accounts,” 15 May 1804, noting the purchase of “A Lot of old Books at Peabody’s at 36 cents. Ainsworth’s Psalms, first used in the Churches of New England, Sternhold & Hopkins, ed. of 1664; The first edition of the New England Psalms,” and other titles [Bentley Fo. Vol. 4, p. 94]).

ii. Isaiah Thomas (armorial bookplate; autograph note on a front fly-leaf).

iii. American Antiquarian Society (part of Thomas’s founding gift).

Amory [1]; Haraszti 7; Swan [7]; Eames 7. Errata corrected, save first and fourth.

Isaiah Thomas’s History of Printing in the United States (Worcester, 1810) includes a catalogue of books printed by Stephen Day, and it is clear from Thomas’s description of the Bay Psalm Book that this copy was then still owned by William Bentley: “1640. The Psalms in Metre, Faithfully translated for the Use, Edification, and Comfort of the Saints in publick and private, especially in New England. Crown 8vo. 300 pages. An entire copy except the title page, is now in the possession of the rev. mr. Bentley, of Salem; this copy I have carefully examined, and although the title page is wanting, and no imprint appears, I have no doubt but it is one of the impression of the first book printed in this country. … The book is bound in parchment.” What remains somewhat obscure (apart from the source of Thomas’s title) is how ownership of this Bay Psalm Book passed from Bentley to Thomas.

While researching his History of Printing, Thomas evidently asked to borrow the volume, because Bentley’s memoranda record, 12 April 1809, that he had lent his “Copy of New England Psalms 1st ed. to Isaiah Thomas Printer. Presumed to be the only copy of the first printed Book in New England. To be returned by him, after used for his work.” Bentley notes elsewhere that he paid 12 cents to have the book carried from Salem to Boston. Thomas acknowledged Bentley’s lending of the book in a letter of 19 April, preserved in the Thomas Papers at AAS: “I have received your old Psalm Book and assure you I am much gratified by your kind attention in sending it to Boston, agreeably to my request. … I would most readily give twenty dollars for the title page which is wanting that I might see the imprint. … I will take special care of the book, and return it whenever you please; but I think to give as a specimen of the work, a page of it in mine.”

It seems likely that Thomas never returned the book to Bentley—and it seems just as clear that Bentley never asked to have it back. In 1812, Thomas listed the volume in the manuscript catalogue of his library, but since he and Bentley continued a collegial and cordial relationship, they evidently reached a private agreement that transferred the Bay Psalm Book, through the office of Thomas, to the Antiquarian Society. Bentley was elected a member of the Society in February 1813, and on 19 November 1814 he wrote to Thomas that his “American Antient Books will be at the service of the Society, so far as they can serve to complete the collection, & so shall my antiquities.” Further evidence that there was no animosity between the two men is found in Bentley’s will (he died in December 1819), in which he stipulated “I give all of my German books, New England printed books, manuscripts not of my own hand, and cabinet with all it contains to the American antiquarian society and all my paintings and engravings” (AAS Archives).

Despite Thomas Prince’s pioneering work on the Bay Psalm Book, the five copies at Old South Church continued to be hidden in plain sight. On 20 September 1820, Isaiah Thomas wrote a summation of his efforts to find another example of the “New England Version of the Psalms” on a front fly-leaf in the AAS copy: “After advertising for another Copy of this book, and making enquiry in many places in New england, &c I was not able to hear of another Copy. This Copy is therefore invaluable, and must be preserved with the greatest Care. It is in its original binding. I.T.” In 1809, while gathering material for his History of Printing, Thomas did indeed advertise for the Bay Psalm Book, running a notice seeking copies of the first, second, and third editions of the "New-England Version of the Psalms" in his own Massachusetts Spy, as well as in other newspapers, including the Farmers' Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire), the Merrimack Intelligencer (Haverhill, Massachusetts), the New-Jersey Telescope (Newark), and the Federal Republican (Baltimore).

Sotheby’s is grateful to Ellen S. Dunlap, President, and Thomas G. Knoles, Marcus A. McCorison Librarian, American Antiquarian Society, for their assistance with this description.


174 x 104 mm. 148 leaves (complete; but with the fore-edges of gatherings K and L restored with a few characters supplied in). Bound in dark brown morocco, elaborately gilt, by Francis Bedford.


i. Acquired by the Old South Church prior to 1750.

ii. Edward A. Crowninshield (exchanged by the Old South Church, January 1850, in consideration of Crowninshield’s paying for the rebinding of the present copy; note by Samuel T. Armstrong, a deacon of Old South, on the front free endpaper of the present copy).

iii. Henry Stevens, bookseller (Crowninshield’s Bay Psalm Book was scheduled for sale—as lot 878, described as bound in “original old vellum"—with the rest of his library at Leonard & Co., 1 November 1859. However, the auction was preempted by the sale of the entire library, for $10,000, to Stevens.

iv. George Brinley (purchased from Stevens, 1866, for 150 guineas, after the latter’s failed effort to sell the book to the Peabody Institute and the British Museum).

v. Cornelius Vanderbilt (purchased at Brinley’s estate auction, part 1, G. A. Leavitt, 10 March 1879, lot 847, $1,200); by descent to:

vi. Mrs. Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt; by descent to:

vii. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney; by bequest to:

viii. The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Trust.

ix. A. S. W. Rosenbach (purchased at the Whitney Trust’s single-lot auction of the book, Parke-Bernet, 28 January 1947, for $151,000).

x. Yale University (the gift of a group of alumni and friends; the acquisition was announced on 19 September 1947, and the donors were identified as George Arents, Edwin J. Beineike, Bollingen Foundation (established by Paul Mellon), Mark Bortman, Albert H. Child's, '61, Memorial Fund, William R. Coe, Ralph Esmerian, Belle da Costa Greene, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond E. Hartz, Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Roy A. Hunt, Mr. and Mrs. Donald F. Hyde, F. A. Kettaneh, William H. Koester, Russell C. Leffingwell, Mrs. George A. Martin (in honor of George A. Martin, Jr. '24), Mrs. G. Macculloch Miller, H. A. Oriel, Clara S. Peck, Louis M. Rabinowitz, A. S. W. Rosenbach, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Mortimer and Adele Schiff Foundation, Thomas W. Streeter, Henry C. Taylor, John Hay Whitney, and Christian A. Zabriskie).

Amory [6]; Haraszti 2; Swan [1]; Eames 2. No 259 in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince; Old South shelf-mark evidently lost when rebound. Errata uncorrected.

The transfer of the Old South-Crowinshield-Stevens-Brinley-Vanderbilt-Whitney copy of the Bay Psalm Book was not as simple as the above provenance sequence might indicate. It is doubtful that Dr. R. anticipated that he would become the most generous of the friends responsible for donating the volume to Yale. 

When the three trustees of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Trust announced their decision to sell The Whole Booke of Psalms “for the sole benefit of the North Country Community Hospital, Glen Cove, New York,” Rosenbach began working with Henry C. Taylor, chairman of the Yale Library Associates, to solicit pledges and contributions to buy the book for Yale with Rosenbach, of course, acting as the University’s agent. John Fleming, who was to do the actual bidding for Rosenbach, arrived at Parke-Bernet with firm pledges of $95,000—but also with the understanding that if more was needed, more would be forthcoming.

More was needed. From the opening bid of $30,000 up to $91,000—with one jump by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney—Fleming traded incremental increases of $1,000 with David Randall of Scribner’s Rare Book Department. Randall was bidding for J. K. Lilly, whose eponymous library at the Indiana University he would soon join as director. With the bid to Fleming at $91,000, Whitney again jumped the bid to $95,000. That pattern—Fleming increasing the bid by $1,000 and Whitney jumping it by $4,000—held until Fleming bid $151,000. Whitney had no response, the hammer came down in favor of Fleming, and he carried the book—the most expensive ever sold at auction—back to Rosenbach’s “shop” at 15 East 51st Street.

That very evening, as detailed in Wolf and Fleming’s Rosenbach, the arrangement with Yale began to go sour. The University proclaimed itself shocked by the price and several potential donors withdrew their pledges. As Rosenbach scrambled to keep the deal together, he offered to send Yale a check for the difference between the auction price and what the University had secured, expecting that as further contributions that came in would be sent to him to repay what he clearly intended as a loan. And in the letter to Yale proposing this remedy, Rosenbach declared that “We are not asking any remuneration whatsoever.” And while he must have intended to say that he was not asking any agent’s or bidding fee, Yale read the letter to mean that Rosenbach was making up the difference between the hammer price and Yale’s collected contributions— an amount that finally settled at $49,500—as a gift, for which he was sent a formal letter of gratitude from the President and Fellows of the University.

Five years after the sale, Dr. R.’s brother and partner, Philip Rosenbach, was still hectoring Yale for the money. Philip had written to Edwin L. Weisel of Simpson, Thatcher, & Bartlett of his intention to publish the whole story (as he saw it) and distribute it to 50,000 Yale alumni and supporters. Weisel replied in a letter of 17 January 1952; “Don’t you think that you are unduly aggravating yourself about the matter. All of us have many disappointments in life in a business way and there is no sense to tearing one’s self up emotionally over such disappointments.” If that soft answer did not turn away Philip’s wrath, perhaps his quoting Morris Wolf, the Rosenbach Company’s lawyer, did: “I feel it would be both useless and undignified to try to pin any legal or moral obligation on Yale” (Rosenbach Company Archives, I:186:02, Rosenbach Museum and Library). The matter was dropped.

Sotheby’s is grateful to George Miles, Curator, Western Americana Collection, Beinecke Library, for his assistance with this description.


179 x 118 mm. 148 leaves (complete; but 12 leaves, gatherings W, X, Y, supplied from the copy now at the Library of Congress and remargined to size). Bound in red morocco by Francis Bedford.  


 i. William Pickering (discovered among a “parcel” of books at a 12 January 1855 Sotheby’s auction of Pickering’s stock, evidently lot 432 or 531).

ii.  Henry Stevens (purchaser of the above lot, for 19 shillings). Sold by Stevens, after he perfected the volume with 12 leaves (W1–Y4) obtained from George Livermore’s already incomplete copy, to:

iii. James Lenox for £80, 1855.

iv.  New York Public Library (included with the rest of Lenox’s Library in the alliance with the Tilden and Astor Foundations that formed the New York Public Library, 1895).

Amory [4]; Haraszti 5; Swan [4]; Eames 8. Errata uncorrected.

Stevens’s Recollections of James Lenox provides a firsthand account of his serendipitous discovery of the book: “For nearly ten years Mr. Lenox entertained a longing desire to possess a perfect copy of ‘The Bay Psalm Book.’ … He gave me to understand that if an opportunity occurred for securing a copy for him I might go as far as one hundred guineas. Accordingly from about 1847 till his death, six years later, my good friend William Pickering and I put our heads and book hunting forces together to run down this rarity.

“The only copy we knew of on this side of the Atlantic was a spotless one in the Bodleian Library, which had lain unrecognized for ages, and even in the printe catalogue of 1843 its title was recorded without distinction among the common herd of Psalms in verse. … I had handled it several times with great reverence … but, as agreed with Mr. Pickering, without making any sign or imparting any information to our good and obliging friend Dr. [Bulkeley] Bandinel, Bodley’s Librarian. We thought that when we had secured a copy for ourselves, it would be time enough to acquaint the learned Doctor that he was entertaining unawares this angel of the New World.

“Under these circumstances, therefore, only an experienced collector can judge of my surprise and inward satisfaction, when on the 12th January 1855, at Sotheby’s, at one of the sales of Pickering’s stock, after untying parcel after parcel to see what I might chance to see, and keeping ahead of the auctioneer, Mr. Wilkinson, on resolving to prospect in one more parcel before he overtook me, my eye rested for an instant only on the long lost Benjamin, clean and unspotted, I instantly closed the parcel, (which was described in the Catalogue as Lot ‘531 Psalmes other Editions, 1630 to 1675, black letter, a parcel,’) and tightened the string. … I quietly bid in a perfectly neutral tone ‘sixpence,’ and so the bids went on increasing by sixpence until half-a-crown was reached. … Thenceforward a ‘spirited competition’ arose between Mr. [Joseph] Lilly and myself until the lot was knocked down to ‘Stevens’ for nineteen shillings! … I eagerly collated the volume, and at first found it right with all the usual signatures correct. … But on further collation I missed sundry of the Psalms, enough to fill four leaves, The puzzle was finally solved when it was discovered that the inexperienced printer had marked a sheet with the signature x after v, which is very unusual.

“This was a very distressing disappointment, but I held my tongue, and knowing that my old friend and correspondent George Livermore of Cambridge, N. E., possessed an imperfect copy, … I proposed an advantageous exchange, and obtained the four missing leaves. …Having thus completed my copy and had It bound by Francis Bedford in his best style, I sent it to Mr. Lenox for £80.”

While there are errors in this recollection—the lot with the “long lost Benjamin” was likely 432, the first item of which is “The Psalms of David, 1640,” and the volume was lacking twelve leaves rather than four—there is no reason to think, as Amory did, that “The whole romantic story is rather too good to be true.” Amory believed this copy of the Bay Psalm Book to have been a hitherto unrecognized sixth copy from the Old South Church Library, but his evidence is unconvincing. There is no reason to think that the Church, having been transparent in the dealings that sent copies of the book to the libraries of George Livermore, Edward Crowninshield, and Nathaniel Shurtleff, would surreptitiously release a copy to George Stevens. Further, Amory associates the Lenox copy with No. 112 in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince, although the present copy, still owned by Old South, has traditionally been identified as No. 112. His reason for this, Amory writes, is that “O.S.C. 112 … is imperfect.” But of course, when that catalogue was compiled, the present copy (lacking Ll4), as well as what would become the Lenox copy (lacking W1-Y4), was imperfect.  

Sotheby’s is grateful to Kyle R. Triplett, Librarian, Rare Book Division, New York Public Library, for his assistance with this description.


183 x 106 mm. 140 (of 148) leaves (lacking *1–4, D1–4). Bound in contemporary calf.


i. James Lawrence, Glasgow (signature on H1r).
ii. Thomas Lawrence (signature on H2r).
iii. William Brown, Belfast (signature on Ll4v).
iv. James Weatherup, Belfast (correspondence, 1933, with the Rosenbach Company).
v. A. S. W. Rosenbach (purchased from Weatherup for £150, 1933).
vi. Rosenbach Museum & Library (part of the founding gift, 1954).

Amory [10]; Haraszti 9; Swan [6]; not in Eames. Errata uncorrected.

In June of 1933, a letter arrived addressed to the Rosenbach Company from Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was written by one James Weatherup and began “Dear Sirs, Bay Psalm Book.” The letter continued, “I have a copy of the above book particulars of which I have noted on the enclosed sheet. If you are interested I shall be glad to hear from you. In the meantime I shall hold it for your reply, and if you care to see the book, I shall be glad to forward it—per my daughter, who will be leaving this side for New York about 1st July—for inspection & offer.”

Weatherup’s description was sufficient and accurate: “Old Brown Morocco.—worn & cracked at hinges. Title-page—missing. Preface a few leaves missing … Leaves unpaginated, and number in this copy 135, in addition to an errata leaf entitled ‘Faults escaped in printing,’ and the 4 leaves of preface making in all 140 leaves. Four leaves, signature D, are entirely missing and do not seem to ever have been in this copy. …” Rosenbach cabled that Miss Weatherup should bring the book with her for inspection.

Although he had tempered his expectations, Rosenbach found upon examination the volume was the 1640 Cambridge Whole Booke of Psalmes—the first copy to be discovered since Henry Stevens ferreted out a copy in an 1855 sale of the stock of William Pickering and the last one to have come to light. Since his policy was not to make offers on books, and since Miss Weatherup did not know what price her father expected, Rosenbach cabled to Weatherup: “Book received regret condition we do not make offers so kindly cable your price in pounds.” Weatherup replied, “150 pounds,” and the deal—one of the great book bargains of all time—was made. (In the late 1930s, Wilberforce estimated the value of the then-Van Sinderen copy, which lacks nineteen leaves, at $50,000.) In a follow-up letter, 17 July 1933, Weatherup commiserated with Dr. R. about the condition of the book and inquired if he might be “interested in Minor Shakespeariana,” a few titles of which he planned to submit for consideration by a later post.

The volume briefly made a splash in the news during the autumn of 1949 when it was part of a loan exhibition at UCLA. A student, supposedly as part of a fraternity initiation, snatched the Bay Psalm Book from its case and leapt with it from a second-floor window of the library. The book was recovered unharmed.

Sotheby’s is grateful to Derick Dreher, John C. Haas Director, and Kathy Haas, Associate Curator, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, for their assistance with this description.


178 x 106 mm. 129 (of 148) leaves (lacking *1, O2–3, W1–Y4, Ll1–4). Bound in contemporary calf, with remnants of brass clasps.


i. Acquired by the Old South Church prior to 1750.
ii. George Livermore (exchanged by the Old South Church, in consideration of other books or services, possibly including rebinding.  This exchange was completed before 13 April 1849, when Henry Stevens reported to James Lenox that Livermore had “recently procured the Bay Psalm Book, 1640.”)

iii. Henry Stevens–James Lenox (12 leaves only, W1–Y4 sold by Livermore, 1855, to Stevens in order to complete the Lenox copy now in the New York Public Library, 1855).

iv.Alfred White (purchased at the sale of Livermore’s library, Charles F.  Libbie, 20 November 1894, lot 531, for $425. After Livermore’s death in 1865, many of his books were placed on deposit at Harvard, where they were held until the death of his widow, Elizabeth, when they were sent to auction. It is not clear if the Bay Psalm Book was among the books deposited at Harvard). By bequest to:

v. Annie White Van Sinderen and Adrian Van Sinderen.

vi. The Library of Congress (gift of Mrs. Van Sinderen, 1966).

Amory [5]; Haraszti 11; Swan [10]; Eames 3. No. 579 (imperfect copy) in the 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince and with Old South shelf-mark 10.4.10. Errata uncorrected.


117 x 115 mm. 141 (of 148) leaves (lacking *1–4, Ll2–4). Bound in contemporary calf.


i. The Shuttlesworth family (perhaps acquired in the eighteenth century).
ii. Sophia S. Simpson (a note laid into the book records that “It belonged to the Shuttlesworth family, & is now handed to my daughter Sophia S. Simpson, to be used at her discretion, by her beloved mother Sara Shuttlesworth. 1844.”)

iii. Burnham Antique Book Store, Boston (acquired about 1872, presumably purchased from Mrs. Simpson).
iv. Bishop John F. Hurst of Washington, D.C. (purchased from Burnham, 1892, for an undisclosed amount. A note by Hurst accompanying the volume states, “I purchased it on August 25, 1892, from the Burnham Antique Book Store. … It was purchased by the late Mr. Burnham about twenty years previous, probably from a lady.”)
v. Dodd, Mead (purchased from Hurst, 1903).
vi. Elihu Dwight Church (purchased from Dodd, Mead, 1903. Dodd, Mead had priced the book at $4,000).
vii. Henry E. Huntington (part of a large en bloc purchase of the Church Library, 1911).
viii. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (transferred with the rest of Huntington’s library as part of the establishment gift, 1919).

Amory [11]; Haraszti 8; Swan [8]; Eames 9. Errata uncorrected.

Sotheby’s is grateful to Stephen Tabor, Curator of Early Printed Books, The Huntington Library, for his assistance with this description.


184 x 125 mm. 148 leaves (complete). Bound in early nineteenth-century green polished calf.  


i. Thomas Tanner, Bishop of St. Asaph (acquired prior to 1735). By bequest to:
ii. The Bodleian Library.

Henry Cotton recorded this copy in his List of Editions of the Bible … in English (1821) simply as “1640. Psalms, in metre anonymous; no place, no name. 4to. Bodleian.” By the 1852 second edition of his bibliography, Cotton—possibly alerted by Henry Stevens—had recognized the book as printed in “Cambridge in New England, by Stephen Daye.” William D. Macray’s Annals of the Bodleian Library (1868) has caused no end of speculation about the condition of the Bodleian Bay Psalm Book by reporting that “when Tanner was removing his books from Norwich to Oxford, in December 1731, by some accident in their transit (which was made by river) they fell into the water, and were submerged for twenty hours.” There is, however, no evidence of accidental or intentional washing in this copy. Its unusually large size might be explained by its having been sent in sheets to England shortly after printing.

Amory [8]; Haraszti 8; Swan [3]; Eames 6. Errata uncorrected.

Sotheby’s is grateful to Alan Coates, Assistant Librarian, Rare Books, Department of Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries, for his assistance with this description.

Catalogue Note

The 1640 Cambridge, Massachusetts, Whole Booke of Psalmes, or “Bay Psalm Book”: the first book printed in British America, the first book written in British America, and the first book printed in English in the New World.

The Bay Psalm Book is a religious and cultural manifesto of the Puritan Fathers and a towering icon of the founding of the United States.

Of an edition of 1,700 copies, just 11 copies survive, of which this is one of only 6 that retain their original title-page.

This is the first copy of America’s first book to appear at auction since 1947—when it set a record for the price of a printed book—and only the second since 1894.

The Puritan Background

The Puritan translation and printing of The Whole Booke of Psalmes was not simply coincident with the founding of America—in a very real way it was the founding of America.

Puritanism began, in the phrase of Francis J. Bremer, as a movement to reform the English Reformation, and it counted among its basic tenets—in addition to its members leading devotional individual and community lives—removing remnants of Roman Catholic teaching and ceremony from the Church of England, making the holy scriptures available in the vernacular languages of worshippers, and supplying every parish pulpit with a university-educated preacher.

The ascension of Charles I with his French Catholic bride in 1625—and the rigid enforcement of Anglican orthodox practices by William Laud, Bishop of London and from 1633 Archbishop of Canterbury—exacerbated the division between the Puritans and the hierarchy of the national church, and many Puritans saw emigration as the only way they could continue to live and worship in their chosen manner. Following the lead of John Winthrop’s eleven-vessel fleet that in the spring and summer of 1630 carried some 700 passengers to New England, between 1630 and 1640 about 20,000 English emigrants settled in the recently chartered Massachusetts Bay Colony. (During this “Great Migration,” a like number of Puritans emigrated from England to three other, variously welcoming destinations: the Netherlands, Ireland, and the West Indies, Barbados in particular.)

But the Puritans sailed to the New World seeking not just to survive, but to flourish. John Winthrop’s shipboard sermon, “A Modell of Christian Charity,” has lost little of its inspirational authority over the succeeding centuries. In order to accomplish their goals, Winthrop advised his flock, the Puritans had only to “follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. … [M]en shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘may the Lord make it like that of New England.’ For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.”

It is in this context—one of deliberation and intentionality—that the creation and printing of the Bay Psalm Book must be seen.

Singing (& Translating) the Psalms

One of the fundamental innovations of the Reformation was the introduction of psalm-singing by the entire congregation rather than just by a designated choir. Puritans, like most Protestant congregations, embraced the singing of psalms as part of their worship service. The founders of the Reformation, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Myles Coverdale, all wrote metrical translations or paraphrases of the Psalms, the most celebrated being Luther’s version of Psalm 46, “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”).

Of course, the Massachusetts Bay Puritans had psalters in England, and they undoubtedly carried to the New World both Henry Ainsworth’s version of the Psalms in prose and meter and the poetical paraphrases of Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins. But there were political, or denominational, issues with both of these standard works that probably contributed to their not being officially adopted by the Cambridge congregation.

Sternhold and Hopkins’s Book of Psalmes was essentially the authorized psalter of the Church of England, with some 200 issues passing through the press from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. The Sternhold and Hopkins text was frequently appended to editions of the Geneva Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, a circumstance acknowledged in the preface to the Bay Psalm Book: “wee have cause to blesse God in many respects for the religious indeavours of the translaters of the psalms into meetre usually annexed to our Bibles.”

But while the Puritans were not Separatists, they were Nonconformists, and they had left England not in order to replicate the Church of England but to reform it. They may have esteemed Sternhold and Hopkins’s “indeavours,” but they did not want to use them in their worship.

Henry Ainsworth, an English minister and scholar, had been allied with the Puritans, but he eventually became a Separatist and settled in Amsterdam in 1593. There he pastored an English expatriate church and translated and had printed The Book of Psalmes: Englished both in Prose and Metre with Annotations (1612), copies of which landed at Plymouth Rock with the Pilgrims in 1620. Adopting Ainsworth’s Book of Psalmes would inevitably link the Puritans with the Separatist Pilgrims; moreover, the Bay Psalm Book preface mentions that there were objections to the “difficulty” of Ainsworth’s tunes.

But overriding these parochial concerns, the ministers, if not the congregants, of Massachusetts Bay found many shortcomings in the standard metrical translations of the Psalms, as the preface details: “it is not unknowne to the godly learned that they have rather presented a paraphrase then the words of David translated according to the rule 2 chron. 29. 30. and that their addition to the words, detractions from the words are not seldome and rare, but very frequent and many times needles[s], (which we suppose would not be approved of if the psalmes were so translated into prose) and that their variations of the sense, and alterations of the sacred text too frequently, may iustly minister matter of offence to them that are able to compare the translation with the text. …” (Note: the “rule” in II Chronicles 29:30 reads, “Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer”; KJV.)

Cotton Mather’s 1702 colonial history, Magnalia Christi Americana, provides a concise and, perhaps, somewhat more comprehensible synopsis of the Puritans’ position: “Tho’ they blessed God for the Religious Endeavors of them who translated the Psalms into the Meetre usually annex’d at the End of the Bible, yet they beheld in the Translation so many Detractions from, Additions to, and Variations of, not only the Text, but the very Sense of the Psalmist, that it was an Offence unto them.”

And, so, as early as 1636 the New England Puritans were discussing the need for a translation that would more exactly express the Hebrew original, and the “chief divines” of Massachusetts Bay (to use Cotton Mather’s phrase) determined to produce their own metrical translation of the Psalms. The resulting text, The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, was the work of several hands representing the intellectual genius of colonial New England. John Cotton, Richard Mather, Thomas Welde, John Eliot, John Wilson, and Peter Bulkeley were likely the principal authors, but others among the “thirty pious and learned Ministers” that Mather counted then in Massachusetts Bay may have contributed as well. Moreover, John Josselyn’s Account of Two Voyages to New England (London, 1674) records that when he visited Boston in June 1638, he carried to John Cotton “from Mr. Francis Quarles the poet, the Translation of the 16, 25, 51, 88, 113, and 137. Psalms into English Meeter, for his approbation,” and Cotton may have adapted some of these for the Bay Psalm Book.

The Psalms are prefaced by, as the title-page has it, “a discourse declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance of singing Scripture Psalmes in the Churches of God.” The preface, like the translation of the psalms, may have been a collaborative effort, but the surviving manuscript is in the hand of John Cotton. (No manuscripts of the metrical psalms themselves are known.)

The preface to the Bay Psalm Book is a remarkable statement of purpose. It explicates the Puritans’ reasons for favoring scriptural psalms, particularly those of David, over psalms and hymns of more modern composition; for supporting the translation of the Hebrew psalms into English poetry; and for having the psalms sung during worship not by a choir or soloist, but “by the whole churches together with their voices.”

Despite the Puritans’ insistence on congregational singing (contrasted with what the preface describes as “one man singing alone and the rest joyning in silence, & in the close saying amen”), the 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes does not contain any musical notation. While the inclusion of music, in either metal or wood type, would have complicated the printer’s task, the real reason notation is absent is that it was neither expected nor necessary. In fact, not until the putative ninth edition of 1698, printed in Boston by Bartholomew Green and John Allen, was the Bay Psalm Book printed with music.

Instead of specific musical notation, the first edition of the Bay Psalm Book appends to the end of the text proper a brief “admonition to the Reader,” that explains that “The verses of these psalmes may be reduced to six kindes, the first wherof may be sung in very neere fourty common tunes; as they are collected, out of our chief musicians, by Tho. Ravenscroft.

In 1621, the English musicologist Thomas Ravenscroft published an expanded edition of Sternhold and Hopkins’s psalter under the title The Whole Booke of Psalmes, with the Hymnes Evangel­li­cal, and Songs Spir­it­u­all. Co­mposed in­to 4. Parts by Sun­dry Au­thors, with such sev­er­al Tunes as have beene, and are usu­al­ly sung in Eng­land, Scot­land, Wales, Ger­ma­ny, Ita­ly, France, and the Ne­ther­lands: Nev­er as yet before in one Vol­ume pub­lished. Ravenscroft himself wrote about half of the more than one hundred tunes featured in his compilation, and most Puritan congregants would have been familiar with the most popular of them.

The “six kindes” of verses mentioned in the Admonition are distinguished by their metrical length. The first kind of verse referred to—those that could be sung to “neere fourty” tunes—is “common meter”: alternating lines of eight and six syllables. The third kind is “long meter,” in which all lines (usually in quatrains) are of eight syllables. The other four kinds of verses are to be sung to tunes for other, less common metrical schemes: quatrains of eight, eight, six, and eight syllables; alternating quatrains of six and four syllables; six lines of eight syllables; and eight lines of eight syllables. Most psalms could have been sung to a variety of tunes that would be well known to the worshippers.

In the case of six psalms—51, 85, 100, 117, 133, 138—the Massachusetts Bay translators provided versions in both long and common meters, introducing the alternative translation as “Another of the same.” Thus the first two verses of Psalm 100 are given in long meter as

Make yee a joyfull sounding noyse
unto Iehovah, all the earth:

2        Serve yee Iehovah with gladnes:
before his presence come with mirth.

In the second, common-meter translation these lines run

Make yee a joyfull noyse unto
Iehovah all the earth:

2        Serve yee Iehovah with gladnes:
before him come with mirth.

John Cotton and his collaborators also use the preface to explain the method and purpose of their new translation. While the translators assume that “no protestant doubteth but that all the bookes of the scripture should by Gods ordinance be extant in the mother tongue of each nation, that they may be understood of all, hence the psalmes are to be translated into our english tongue,” they also argue that “as all our english songs … do run in metre, soe ought Davids psalmes to be translated into meeter. …” But they caution worshippers not to think “that for the meetre sake wee have taken liberty or poeticall licence to depart from the true and proper sence of Davids words in the hebrew verses, noe; but it hath been one part of our religious care and faithfull indeavor, to keepe close to the original text.” (One simple but significant way the Bay Psalm Book kept close to the original text was by dividing the Psalms into five books, as in the Hebrew original—and as Sternhold and Hopkins, for example, did not.)

Four very particular principles of their “plaine and familiar translation of the psalmes and words of David” are detailed—and Cotton is at pains to explain that the New England Whole Booke of Psalmes is a translation, not a presumptuous “paraphrase to give the sense of his meaning in other words.” First, the Bay Psalm translators shunned additions, except when unavoidable even in prose translation. Second, they adopted—in the manner of English-language Bibles—English idioms rather than Hebrew ones, “lest they might seeme english barbarismes.” Third, they allowed themselves on occasion to contract or expand “the same hebrew word, both for the sense and the verse sake”: “as when wee dilate who healeth and say he it is who healeth; so when wee contract those that stand in awe of God and say Gods fearers.” Finally, in cases where a single Hebrew word cannot be adequately translated by a single English word, they have translated not just the word but what they deem as the “more full and emphaticall signification” of it, giving as examples “mighty God, for God”; “humbly blesse for blesse”; and “truth and faithfulnes for truth.”

The final paragraph of the preface provides an eloquent and convincing justification of the resulting translation: “If therefore the verses are not alwayes so smooth and elegant as some may desire or expect; let them consider that Gods Altar needs not our pollishings: Ex. 20. for wee have respected rather a plaine translation, then to smooth our verses with the sweetnes of any paraphrase, and soe have attended Conscience rather then Elegance, fidelity rather then poetry in translating the hebrew words into english language, and Davids poetry into english meetre. …”

Some of the translations in the Bay Psalm Book are undeniably awkward, but the full work does not merit much of the modern criticism that has been leveled against it. The translation certainly affords examples of psalms that are rendered intelligible but graceless, as for instance, Psalm 2:

Why rage the Heathen furiously?
muse vaine things people do;

2        Kings of the earth doe set themselves,
Princes consult also:
with one consent against the Lord,
and his anoynted one.

3        Let us asunder break their bands,
          their cords bee from us throwne.

4        Who sits in heav'n shall laugh; the lord
          will mock them; then will he

5        Speak to them in his ire, and wrath:
          and vex them suddenlie.

6        But I annoynted have my King
          upon my holy hill

7        of Zion: The established
          counsell declare I will.
          God spake to me, thou art my Son:
          this day I thee begot.

8        Aske thou of me, and I will give
          the Heathen for thy lot:
          and of the earth thou shalt possesse
          the utmost coasts abroad.

9        thou shalt them break as Potters sherds
          and crush with yron rod.

10      And now yee Kings be wise, be learn’d
          yee Iudges of th’earth (Heare.)

11      Serve yee the lord with reverence,
          rejoyce in him with feare.

12      Kisse yee the Sonne, lest he be wroth,
          and yee fall in the way.
          when his wrath quickly burnes, oh blest
          are all that on him stay.

But there are also psalms that are presented as emotive and appealing lyrics. The twenty-third Psalm, despite its familiarity in other versions, is here a poetic prayer that can stand comfortably with most seventeenth-century Colonial American verse:         

          The Lord to mee a shepheard is,
          want therefore shall not I,

2        Hee in the folds of tender-grasse,
          doth cause mee downe to lie:
          To waters calme me gently leads

3        Restore my soule doth hee:
          he doth in paths of righteousnes:
          for his names sake leade mee.

4        Yea though in valley of deaths shade
          I walk, none ill I’le feare:
          because thou art with mee, thy rod,
          and staffe my comfort are.

5        For mee a table thou hast spread,
          in presence of my foes:
          thou dost annoynt my head with oyle,
          my cup it over-flowes.

6        Goodnes & mercy surely shall
          all my dayes follow mee:
          and in the Lords house I shall dwell
          so long as dayes shall bee.

(It is worth noting that the Bay Psalm Book’s translations of psalms 19, 23, and 107 are anthologized in the Library of America’s volume of American Poetry: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, ed. David S. Shields, 2007.)

David Daniell, writing in The Bible in English, gives perhaps the fairest and most judicious recent assessment of the literary achievement of the 1640 Cambridge Whole Booke of Psalmes. While not blind to the shortcomings of some of the translations—indeed, he deems selected passages “not even passable poetry in English,” “nearly gibberish,” and “hardly verse”—Daniell acknowledges that many other contemporary metrical translations contained deficient, if not nonsensical, sections as well.

Daniell further notes that “the very form itself, of Psalms intended to be sung in metre, invites a certain ruggedness. … The principles of Hebrew poetry were not yet fully understood in the West in 1640: those translators of Bay Psalms who did their best with the Hebrew still had to struggle with a fairly baffling original form, never mind the difficulty of getting it all into singable short verses in English, to be taken line by line by, or for, a congregation. Though tempting, it is quite wrong to bring to these verses high criteria of what lyric poetry should be. … There is no reason not to relish the bad lines: but what should be appraised is the religious energy that made the ‘first book printed in America’ … a book of congregational Psalms.”

Printing the Bay Psalm Book

But it is as a book and not as a text, that the Bay Psalm Book is best known, celebrated, and revered. And while the faithful translation into English meter of The Whole Booke of Psalmes could be accomplished with men and materials already in Massachusetts Bay Colony, its printing required the importation of both.

The Reverend Jose Glover was a Puritan from a wealthy family of London merchants with interests in the West Indies. When the Massachusetts Bay Company was charted in 1628, Glover, like his brothers, subscribed for £50 of its capital stock, just as they had supported earlier colonizing efforts. In 1636, Glover resigned his pulpit in Surrey rather than read from it—as was required by Archbishop Laud—a decree allowing “lawful recreation” after Sunday worship service.

Two years later, Glover had determined to settle in Massachusetts Bay, and in the summer of 1638 he secured passage for his family on the ship John of London. In addition to his wife and five children, servants, and household furnishings, Glover sailed with a printing press valued at £20; 240 reams of paper worth £60; and a case of assorted type. It was the inclusion of these stores among the vessel’s cargo that led Samuel Eliot Morison to call the John of London “the publishing fraternity’s Mayflower.”

Glover also had under his custody on the John of London one Stephen Day, a locksmith by trade, who was indentured to the Glovers and who himself was accompanied by his wife, children, and servants. But the father of the American press was fated to beget a posthumous child: the Reverend Glover died during the voyage to Boston Harbor.

Undeterred, Glover’s widow, Elizabeth, established the press at Cambridge by the end of 1638. Stephen Day—perhaps assisted by his eighteen-year-old son Matthew, who may have been apprenticed as a printer in London—acted as compositor and pressman. The press was probably set up at the house that Mrs. Glover had purchased for Day on Crooked Lane, now 15 Holyoke Street.

A somewhat cryptic memorandum of uncertain date (but evidently before 1654 or 1655) copied into Harvard’s College Book III records that “Some Gentlemen of Amsterdam gave towards the furnishing of a Printing-Press with Letters … fourty nine pound & something more,” but there is no reason to think this is any more accurate than the preceding entry, which states “Mr Joss: Glover gave to the Colledge a ffount of printing Letters.” It seems more likely that Glover intended to found his own independent printing shop, perhaps as a form of ministry. (Three years after fulfilling her late husband’s vision, the widow Glover would marry Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, and after Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Glover’s press and type—the latter perhaps only briefly—did find their way to Harvard.)

The press seems to have excited a good bit of local interest, perhaps because it was seen as legitimizing the cultural aspirations of Bay colonists. On 7 September 1638, the Reverend Edmund Browne wrote to a colleague in England, “We have a Cambridge here, a college erecting, youth lectured, a library, and I suppose there will be a presse this winter.” Within three months, the press had arrived in Cambridge, as attested by letter from Hugh Peter, 10 December 1638, to Patrick Copland in Bermuda: “We have a printery here and thinke to goe to worke with some special things. …”

In short order, the Cambridge, Massachusetts, press was in operation. In a journal entry for March 1639, John Winthrop noted “A printing house was begun at Cambridge by one Daye, at the charge of Mr. Glover, who died on seas hitherward. The first thing which was printed was the freeman’s oath; the next was an almanack made for New England by Mr. William Peirce Mariner [master of one of the ships of the Winthrop fleet]; the next was the Psalms newly turned into metre.”

The Freeman’s Oath had to be sworn to by any man twenty years of age, and six months a householder, wanting to become a citizen of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and thus be eligible to hold office and vote in elections. Stephen Day’s edition of the oath was likely imposed as a small handbill, and although the printing historian Hugh Amory speculated that as many as 2,000 copies were printed, no copies are known to survive. The text of the Oath, however, is preserved by later printings—notably its inclusion in John Childs’s 1647 New-Englands Jonas Cast Up at London, from which Mark Hoffman took the text for his notorious forgery.

About William Peirce’s almanac—no copies of which, authentic or forged, are recorded—nothing is known, including its format, text, or the size of the edition. It is worth noting that not only is there no evidence to corroborate Winthrop’s recollection of the mariner’s almanac, the reference to it in his holograph journal is crossed out.

About “the Psalms newly turned into metre” much is known. The edition was substantial, about 1,700 copies, a number that can be extrapolated from the documentary evidence of a suit brought against Henry Dunster by the heirs of Jose and Elizabeth Glover in 1656. After Elizabeth’s death in 1643, Dunster ran the press for six years. In 1649 he leased it to Samuel Green, and when he retired from the presidency of Harvard in 1654, he sold the press to the college. This last action seems to have prompted the Glover children to seek the return of what they considered their property, as well as an accounting of Dunster’s printing activity. (Dunster was ordered by the Middlesex Court to make restitution in the amount of £117, about half of which was accounted for by the press and that portion of the Glovers’ paper stock remaining at the time of Dunster’s marriage to Elizabeth.)

The Stephen Day-Samuel Green accounts, published in Hugh Amory’s First Impressions, indicate that The Whole Booke of Psalmes was printed on 37 sheets of paper and that 130 reams were consumed by the edition. Since each ream was comprised of 480 sheets, the number of copies printed can be easily calculated. The reams of paper carried to Boston with the rest of the printing equipment acquired by Jose Glover were typical of the paper used by dozens of London printers in hundreds of publications of the later 1630s.

The great majority of the paper used by the London shops, and thus the paper commonly supplied by English paper merchants, was imported from Norman and Breton paper mills, in the small size usually called Pott, with sheet dimensions of approximately 30 × 40 cm. Pots were a common watermark type for this size, but various mills used also other watermarks, one of the most common being a depiction of two columns, with the papermaker’s initials in a banderole between them and a surmount of a grape cluster. In the English paper trade this was called Pillar paper, and Edward Heawood’s Watermarks, Mainly of the 17th and 18th Centuries provides a good conspectus of these under the heading “Post or Pillar.”

In this copy of the Bay Psalm Book there are two different Pillar stocks, one appearing in ten sheets, and quite close in type to Heawood’s no. 3506, which he traced from a copy of Wye Saltonstall’s English translation of Historia mundi: or Mercator’s Atlas, folio, printed in London by Thomas Cotes, 1635. There are at least seven different stocks of Pot-watermarked paper in the present copy, some with double handles and some with single, one of which is of the type of Heawood nos. 3626-3627. The 1649 Platform of Church Discipline (“Printed by S[amuel] G[reen] at Cambridge in New England … 1649”, 4to) was also printed on a mixture of Pot- and Pillar-watermarked papers, which may have represented the last remainder of Glover’s original paper stock.

The type of the Bay Psalm Book, unlike the paper, was of English manufacture. The text type is a 95 English Roman (i.e., 20 lines of text type measure 95 mm), but an 83 Pica and a 53 Brevier appear as well, as do larger display capitals, a Hebrew font, a very few printer’s ornaments, and various other sorts. Writing in his History of Printing in America (1810), Isaiah Thomas described the type as “Roman, of the size of small bodied English, entirely new, and may be called a very good letter.”

The type was not new, however. Some of the pieces are visibly worn, and Amory speculates that “Glover surreptitiously obtained his type from the stock of a sympathetic printer like [the Puritan William] Jones, and not directly from one of the four licensed English founders, who were much more strictly supervised.” This would also help explain some of the deficiencies in Day’s type-case: italics seem to be in short supply and he evidently had no apostrophes at all, having to set inverted commas in their stead. In addition, some of the Hebrew characters appear to have been cut in wood, perhaps necessitated by missing sorts. Whether metal or wood, the Hebrew letters in the Bay Psalm Book represented the first Hebrew printing in the New World.

Day imposed The Whole Booke of Psalmes as a quarto, although an octavo format would have been much more efficient. (Amory calculates that printing the book as an octavo would have saved more than half the paper that was used.) But an octavo imposition is much more complicated, with eight pages (rather than four) having to be set for the outer and inner forme of each sheet. In addition, Day’s principal text type, the 95 English Roman, was not well suited to the smaller format.

Stephen Day is remembered as America’s first printer, but not as an accomplished one. His lack of experience, coupled with an extreme idiosyncrasy in spelling, produced a book that, in the words of George Parker Winship, “looks the part that the fates assigned it to play. It has every appearance of being an effort of beginners on a remote frontier.” (One example of Day’s inexact orthography is found in the preface where two successive paragraphs include the spellings “metre,” “meeter,” and “meetre.”)

The faults of the book are as obvious as they are understandable, and Isaiah Thomas summarized them 200 years ago: The Bay Psalm Book “abounds with typographical errors. … This specimen of Daye’s printing does not exhibit the appearance of good workmanship. The compositor must have been wholly unacquainted with punctuation. ‘The Preface,’ is the running title to that part of the work. ‘The.’ with a period, is on the left hand page, and ‘Preface.’ on the right. Periods are often omitted where they should be placed, and not seldom used where a comma only was necessary. Words of one syllable, at the end of lines, are sometimes divided by a hyphen; at other times, those of two, or more syllables, are divided without one; the spelling is bad and irregular. One thing is very singular—at the head of every left hand page throughout the work, 'PSALM' is spelled as it should be; at the head of every right hand page, it has an E final, thus, 'PSALME.'"

Long as Thomas’s litany of Day’s eccentricities is, it can be expanded. Day not infrequently set catchwords to correspond with the running-head rather than with the first word of the text. He sometimes used the running-head as the caption-title for a psalm beginning a new page. He freely substituted wrong-font italic capitals for the appropriate roman correspondents. He employed ligatured sorts indifferently with non-ligatured ones. He inked the type unevenly, and occasionally entire lines are printed in blind. He did not clean his type well between pulls, and there is ample evidence of dirty or ink-clotted type, and occasionally of pulled letters. The ink, a compound of lampblack and varnish, was presumably made by Day.

One significant error undoubtedly demonstrates Day’s inexperience. In the present copy, and in the copy given by Middlecott Cooke to Harvard, sheet D was turned upside down in reiteration. The outer forme is printed correctly, but the inner is inverted, so that D1r is backed by D3v, D2v is fronted by D4r, D3r is backed by D1v, and D4v is fronted by D2r. While this is a printer’s error and not an issue point, it is certainly likely to have occurred early in the press run and not to have affected many copies.

Hugh Amory was the first to publish this mistake, but his melodramatic description seems overwrought, particularly when contrasted with the reaction of the first (or at least early) owner of the present copy. While Amory imagines a “disaster” analogous to a computer crash “erasing hours of toil,” the staid seventeenth-century reader, recognizing that nothing was lost or erased, simply made a few concise annotations indicating how the printer’s mistake could be corrected: thus, “miss 2 leaves” at the foot of D1r and D4r and “Turn back a leafe” on D3r and D2r.

Day acknowledged that his printing included mistakes by including a highly selective list of errata, headed “Faults escaped in printing,” on the recto of the final leaf of The Whole Booke of Psalmes. While he cites only seven faults specifically, Day recognized that there were inevitably more than that, directing the reader that “The rest, which have escaped through oversight, you may amend, as you finde them obvious.”

The seven errors he does list are an odd lot. The first seems extraordinarily exacting, considering the standard of spelling throughout the volume: Day instructs that in Psalm 9, verse 9, the word “oprest” should be corrected to “opprest.” Other of the faults are more substantive: in Psalm 21, verse 8, the inaccurate reading “the Lord” is to be replaced by “thine hand,” and in Psalm 143, verse 6, “moreover I” is to be substituted for the erroneous “I even I.”

But the proofreading of the Bay Psalm Book was arbitrary at best. Psalms 9 and 18 both have two errata noted, but no faults at all are pointed out between psalms 21 and 143. One of the errors cited in the “Faults escaped” is that in verse 29 of Psalm 18 the word “thee” appears as “the.” But this is a mistake that appears, unremarked, elsewhere in the book, including in the first verse of Psalm 9—the facing page of which contains two of the seven printing errors noted in the errata. In this copy, all of the mistakes pointed out by the printer, save one, have been neatly corrected by an early reader.

There are press corrections in the Bay Psalm Book as well, some certainly the work of Day himself, but at least one reveals the hand of one of the “learned Ministers.” Verse 23 of Psalm 69 reads in the present copy, “And let their eyes be darkened / that they may never see: / with trembling also make their loynes / to shake continuallie.” This reading is found in all extant copies save the one remaining in the collection of the Old South Church in Boston, where the final two lines are set as “their loynes also with trembleing / to shake continuallee.” Because of the imbalance of the surviving versions—and because the common reading is a better parallel to the preceding line “And let their eyes be darkened”—this emendation must have been made very early in the press run.

Since he was known as a locksmith, and because his few surviving holographs show him to be poorly lettered, Stephen Day has frequently been pushed aside by historians who suppose it more probable that it was Matthew Day who actually first operated the Cambridge press. But contemporary documentation supports Stephen. In December 1641, the General Court granted the elder Day “300 acres of land where it may be convenient, without prejudice to any towne” in consideration for his “being the first that set upon printing.” This grant was reconfirmed in 1655 “for Recompence of his Care and Charg in furthering the worke of Printing.” And there is also his own testimony from a suit he brought against Henry Dunster in Middlesex Court in 1656 seeking £100 for his “Labour and Expences about the printing presse and the utensils and appurtenances thereof, and the mannaging the said worke.” (The court found for the defendant and Day was ordered to pay costs.)

Matthew Day did succeed his father as printer at the Cambridge press in 1643, likely at Dunster’s insistence. And the quality of the printing was improved. The output of the press became even more artful when Samuel Green took over the shop about 1649. It is inconceivable that Stephen Day could have managed—at all, let alone elegantly—the composition and printing of Mamusse wunneetupanatamwe up-Biblum God, John Eliot’s Indian Bible, which Green so successfully managed with the assistance of Marmaduke Johnson and James Printer.

But Stephen Day was the first, and if he was a locksmith by trade rather than a printer, then the magnitude of his accomplishment ought to be enhanced rather than diminished. His edition of The Whole Booke of Psalmes is not just a book; it is a sacred relic of America’s founding and a touchstone of America’s material and intellectual culture. In no other country has the product of the hand printing press had the historical impact that it did in the United States, from John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal to Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s; and from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to John Dunlap’s broadside of the Declaration of Independence to his publication of the Constitution in the Pennsylvania Packet. And these all had as their progenitor Stephen Day’s imperfect, yet somehow irreproachable, printing of the Bay Psalm Book. Stephen Day merits gratitude and commendation, and he deserves the encomium that Walt Whitman offered more than two centuries later to others, who like Day, left the past behind to seize “a newer, mightier world, varied world, … world of labor and the march”: Pioneer! O pioneer!

The Reception and Continued Significance
of the Bay Psalm Book

If later readers freely found fault with the translations in the Bay Psalm Book, many contemporary readers fully embraced it. The volume was sold for twenty pence, and the 1640 edition was immediately adopted by nearly every congregation in the southern part of Massachusetts Bay—hence the volume’s familiar name. Still, an edition of 1,700 copies was very large for the population of the colony—which has been estimated to be about 3,500 families totaling between 15,000 and 20,000 individuals. And some colonists, notably the Pilgrims who had settled around Plymouth, did not adopt the Cambridge Whole Booke of Psalmes.

It is likely, then, that some copies were sent to England—perhaps surreptitiously, since the book violated the Stationers’ Company’s patent. Portions of the Bay Psalm Book preface were included in Nathanael Homes’s survey of Gospel Musick (London, 1644), and the work of the “chief divines” of New England was first reprinted in an authorized London edition of 1647.

Of that large first edition of 1640, just eleven copies are known to have survived, five of which lack their title-pages—further evidence of the popularity of the work. The Bay Psalm Book was intended as a utilitarian book for the common people (in a way that the Gutenberg Bible surely was not), and copies were subjected to hard and constant use.

A second American edition was issued in 1651, revised by Henry Dunster and Richard Lyon, partly because, according to Increase Mather’s Magnalia, “It was thought that a little more of Art was to be employed upon the verses.” Wilberforce Eames identified more than fifty additional editions of the Bay Psalms, which continued to be printed into the second half of the eighteenth century in New England, England, and Scotland.

The scholars and ministers  of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who, according to their preface, had “attended Conscience rather then Elegance, fidelity rather then poetry, in translating the hebrew words into english language,” created a work that would shape the religious and social life of the new nation. They created a work that is as much an icon of the founding of America as Plymouth Rock—and nearly as durable. They also created a new center of publishing: by 1700, Boston had surpassed Oxford and Cambridge to become the second most active publishing center of English-language books in the world, behind only London.

Thomas Prince and the Book Collections
of the Old South Church in Boston

The Puritans were a bookish people. Printing was one of the first commercial enterprises of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. So it is no surprise that the Old South Church, established in 1669, quickly became one of the chief repositories of historical and theological books in New England. Of course, the first books in the Church’s library would not have been collected as artifacts; they would simply have been part of the “furniture and fixtures” of an active congregation. One explanation—perhaps the only plausible explanation—for the Old South’s having at one time five copies of the Bay Psalm Book is that several of them were probably there since the beginning, as utilitarian hymnals of founding members. The Church also undoubtedly made an effort to stay current with the published sermons and other pamphlets of the principal Congregationalist ministers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including the prolific Mather family. Bequests of various sizes also helped to fill the shelves of the Old South’s steeple chamber.

During the first half of the eighteenth century, the book collecting of the Old South Church became a bit more systematic and scholarly. This was due to the conjunction of two remarkable co-ministers, the Reverends Thomas Prince and Joseph Sewall. From 1713 through 1769, one or both of these men filled the pulpit at Old South, and each left a legacy not only of ministry, but also of bibliography. At his death in 1758, Thomas Prince bequeathed to the Church his self-designated “New-England Library,” which likely included two copies of the Bay Psalm Book. (Prince has popularly been credited with having collected all five copies of the 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes once belonging to Old South, but this is certainly not the case.) Sewall survived Prince by eleven years, and a major portion of his library was also left to the Church.

Thomas Prince (1687–1758) grew up with access to the library of his grandfather, Thomas Hinckley, the last governor of Plymouth Colony, and he early developed an appreciation of books. In addition to printed books, the young Prince learned the importance of preserving manuscripts and ephemera, much of which he utilized in compiling his Chronological History of New-England in the Form of Annals (Boston, 1736). Prince had begun his New-England Library shortly after entering Harvard in 1703; he wrote in the preface to his Chronological History that his passion for collecting was inspired when he “chanced in my leisure Hours to read Mr. Chamberlain's Account of the Cottonian Library: Which excited in me a Zeal of laying hold on every Book, Pamphlet, and Paper, both in Print and Manuscript which are either written by persons who lived here, or that have any Tendency to enlighten our History.”

Following his graduation from Harvard, Prince travelled through the West Indies and Europe for two years before settling in England. During this period, and until his return to Massachusetts in 1717, he gathered a sizeable theological library, which he augmented with the works of many of his colonial contemporaries, particularly the Mathers, with whom he was closely associated. Prince had two distinct bookplates made, one for his New-England Library and the other denominated for his “South-Church-Library in Boston, Begun to be collected by Thomas Prince upon his being ordain’d their colleague Pastor with the Rev. Mr. Joseph Sewall, Oct. 1. 1718.”

The 1640 Whole Booke of Psalmes, of course, united Prince’s two bibliographical interests. He can rightly be adjudged the Cardinal Mazarin of the Bay Psalm Book, being the first to promote, if not to recognize, the primacy of the work in American printing. His final bibliographical work was his own edition of the Bay Psalms, incorporated into The Psalms, Hymns, & Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English Meter. Being the New-England Psalm-book, revised and improved, which was published in Boston by Henchman and Kneeland in 1758, just in time for selections to be read at his funeral.

Following Prince’s death, His “books and papers,” according to the 1870 catalogue of the collection, “were deposited on shelves, and in boxes and barrels in a room in the steeple of the church, under the belfry, which according to tradition had been Prince's study. There this valuable deposit was left for many years without care, and subject to many vicissitudes. During the siege of Boston in 1775-6, the Church, being used as a riding-school by the British troops, was often frequented by idle spectators, who must have had access to the collection, and may be responsible for some of the loss it has sustained. In heating the building, it is known that the pulpit and pews were consumed, and the parsonage which stood adjoining and had been the mansion of Winthrop, the first governor of the Colony, was demolished to keep up the fires during the long winter.”

Beginning in 1814, several attempts were made to compile a catalogue of the Library of the Old South Church. Perhaps because of his penchant for better organization, including having bookplates for many of his books, Prince’s fame in the nineteenth century had eclipsed that of the Rev. Sewall and others of his contemporaries. During this period, the term “Prince Library” came to be used as a convenient generic designation for all of the books belonging to the Old South Church, regardless of their individual provenances. Because of this imprecise nomenclature, hundreds of items never owned by Prince (including more than 250 volumes from the Sewall family alone) were included in the published inventories of the purported “Prince Library.”

The 1846 Catalogue of the Library of Rev. Thomas Prince, former pastor of the Old South Church. Presented by Him to the Old South Church and Society provides an example of the inexact treatment of the books in the Church’s library. Five copies of the Bay Psalm Book are noted, but under four different headings. Four copies are cited in Part I of the catalogue, devoted to the “Chiefly Religious” works: no. 112, placed with the quartos, is described as “The Whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre, (imperfect.) 1640.” No. 259, among the duodecimos, is catalogued as “The whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre. 1640. (Perfect copy.).” No. 579 describes two further copies, shelved with the octavos: “The Psalms in English Metre, 1640. 2 copies—(one imperf.).” The fifth copy is catalogued as no. 132 in Part II, “Select Catalogue of Historical Works … in the Rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society,” with the octavos, as “The Whole Book of Psalms, translated into English metre, 1640.”

As the size and significance of the Old South’s library outgrew the Church’s ability to properly administer it, the deacons placed the Church’s books on deposit at the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1814. In 1866, the deacons transferred the deposit to the Boston Public Library, where the book collection of the Old South Church continues to be housed.