Written by Emily Mullins
Old South Church in Boston United Church of Christ, one of the most historically significant churches in the United States, is moving forward with its vision to transform its antique Bay Psalm Book into 21st-century ministries. On Nov. 26, 2013, Sotheby's New York will auction the hymnal, considered one of the finest surviving copies of the first book printed in the U.S., in a dedicated sale. Printed in 1640, the hymnal's estimated pre-sale value is $15-30 million, and proceeds from the auction will benefit the congregation's mission and ministry in the Greater Boston area.
"With the sale of this extraordinary asset, we intend to strengthen our ministries of mercy, justice and beauty," said the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister and CEO of Old South Church. "We hope to increase our grants and outreach programs, as well as maintain our National Historic Landmark building – open and free to the public, seven days a week – in excellent repair."
In December 2012, Old South Church members voted in favor of selling the hymnal, as well as a collection of Colonial-era silver, to benefit the church's future. The congregation reached the decision after years of conversations, deliberations, presentations and discernment, Taylor said, which aligns with it's Vision for the 21st Century plan adopted in 2010.
Old South Church possesses two of the 11 known remaining copies of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, and has decided to keep the other one. Church leadership recently had that copy digitized, which can be viewed on the church's website. The congregation will also retain its Thomas Prince Library containing 2,000 other rare books and manuscripts.
The last known Bay Psalm Book appeared at a Sotheby's auction in 1947 and sold for $151,000, a record auction price for any printed book at the time. The copy from Old South Church will be on view at Sotheby's New York City galleries April 12-14 before embarking on a traveling exhibition in cities including Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. The book will return to New York for exhibition Nov. 18, 2013, in preparation for the auction.
"The Bay Psalm Book is a mythical rarity," said David Redden, director of special projects and worldwide chairman of Sotheby's books department. "Unseen on the marketplace for more than two generations, it has become too rare to collect. Yet here it is today, this modest little book printed in the American wilderness, but embodying the values that created our nation: political freedom and religious liberty."
For more information about the auction visit the Old South Church website.