When it travels, which is rarely, the "Bay Psalm Book" has an entourage, including private security men. It's how superstars roll, as well as American history artifacts potentially worth as much as a winning lottery ticket.
Also like a superstar, the "Bay Psalm Book" has become known by a sort of pseudonym. Its real name, the one on the title page rather than the one historians and book collectors use, is "The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre."
On the road the "Bay Psalm Book" lives sort of like a vampire. It's not allowed to see daylight, and its primary resting place is inside a specially built box that fits exactly into a compartment hollowed out of the gray foam that fills the rest of a hard-sided briefcase.
But, no, that briefcase is not then attached by handcuffs to the wrist of the gentleman who has been carrying it, David Redden, director of special projects and books department chairman for the New York auction house Sotheby's.
To do so, said Redden, with a laugh, "would be fairly obvious."
When Redden is on an airplane with the book — as he was Monday morning, shepherding it from New York to Chicago, for a stop at the Newberry Library — he does not finish with Sky Mall and then get a notion to kill the rest of the flight by thumbing through the "Bay Psalm Book."
Among other reasons for not doing this, he would not want to leave one of 11 known copies of the first book printed and written in the land that would become the United States in the seat-back pocket in front of him. That would be a $15 million mistake, or maybe even a $30 million mistake, taking the low and high ends of the Sotheby's estimate for what the 1640, first-edition psalter will bring at auction next month.
Also, Redden has read it, and he said he finds its rhyming versions of the psalms — "The Lord to mee a shepherd is, want therefore shall not I / Hee in the folds of tender-grasse, doth cause mee downe to lie" — "a little odd" to one, like him, who knows the poems from the King James version.
But even as it is being coddled, this book is, have no doubt, a hard-working book. Like an author or musician, it is on tour, helping to boost its renown and, its owner and Sotheby's hope, its sale price when it goes on the auction block Nov. 26 in in New York.
"It's kind of a dream to sell a 'Bay Psalm Book' if you're in my world," Redden said. "This is truly the Gutenburg Bible of America. I sometimes call it the most famous book in America that nobody knows about."
(A few people have known about it. Will Harriss won a best first mystery novel prize for 1983's "The Bay Psalm Book Murder," involving the authenticity of a newly discovered copy of the book. You can buy a first edition of "The Bay Psalm Book Murder" on Barnes & Noble's website for $23.)
Although the "Bay Psalm Book" paid a sort of trial visit to Philadelphia earlier this year, the Newberry is its first stop on the official tour.
It'll be on public display there, free, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. Then it goes to St. Louis and, before November, a list of cities that is still being developed but likely will include Dallas, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, Cleveland and, back to its longtime home, Boston.
It is a Sotheby's twist on the usual book tour, most of which feature the writer and multiple copies of her work. This one has the book and Redden, who acts as a sort of docent for it.
The actual authors, scholars and preachers who created the new translation of the biblical psalms from the original Hebrew, are, of course, long dead.
Stephen Daye printed and bound the psalter in his shop in Cambridge, in the Massachussetts Bay Colony. The 1,700 copies made meant roughly one for every Puritan family to use in church to sing the psalms, a practice in which the Puritans deeply believed. The price they paid for a copy would have been "something like sixpence," Redden said.
The new translation and printing were "really an exercise in forwarding their religious beliefs," said Redden, himself a Brit. "It was a kind of declaration of independence from the Church of England. They dismissed the bible as translated by the Church of England and wanted their own translation."
In "the vault" at the Newberry mid-day Monday, Redden entered and, first, pulled a 20th century "Bay Psalm Book" edition that he carries out of a Sue the T. rex tote bag.
Fun fact: Redden was the auctioneer who sold that skeleton to the Field Museum in 1997 and since then, he said, "I'm the biggest collector of Sue memorabilia in the world."
He then carefully unpacked the first-edition "Bay Psalm Book" from its briefcase and did, in fact, thumb through it.