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America’s First Book Sells for Record $14 Million

The first book written in what is today the United States of America fetched $14.2 million in New York on Tuesday, becoming the world’s most expensive printed book sold at auction. The translation of Biblical psalms “The Bay Psalm Book” was printed by Puritan settlers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 and sold at a one-lot auction in just minutes by Sotheby’s. The book, with its browning pages and gilt edges, was displayed in a glass case behind the auctioneer to a relatively small crowd which attended the less than five-minute auction in person. The settlers, who came to America to seek religious freedom, had set about making their own preferred translation from the Hebrew original of the Old Testament book after arriving from Europe. Sotheby’s named the buyer as David Rubenstein, the billionaire American financier and philanthropist. He was in Australia and his bid was conducted by telephone. Sotheby’s had valued the book at $15-30 million, but denied any disappointment in the sale price reached Tuesday. The previous record was $11.5 million, reached when a copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” (pictured below) sold at Sotheby’s in December 2010.

The world’s most expensive manuscript, the handwritten Codex Leicester, 72 pages of largely scientific writings by Leonardo da Vinci, was bought by Bill Gates in 1994 for $30.8 million.

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