First American book making Chicago appearance

Published in 1640, 'Bay Psalm Book' on nationwide tour before November auction

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The first American book — and one of the most valuable — is coming to town.

In advance of it being sold at auction, the work known as the "Bay Psalm Book," printed in 1640, will be on display at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.

The collection of then-freshly translated biblical psalms, one of 11 remaining first edition copies, will head next to St. Louis for the second stop in a nationwide tour meant to show off the artifact before Sotheby's puts it under the gavel, figuratively, on Nov. 26.

Expected selling price: $15 million to $30 million, according to the auction house.

Why so much? "It is considered to be the first book that was written and published in what I guess you could call British North America," said David Spadafora, president of the Newberry. "It reflects a new translation of the psalms by British colonial scholars."

The book — called "The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre" on its title page — will, of course, be well protected in Chicago: no thumbing through it allowed.

And the Newberry will display it with items from its own collection related to Boston's Old South Church, which is selling the "Bay Psalm Book" copy, one of two it owns, to raise money for church maintenance and charitable work. The exhibit is free.

sajohnson@tribune.com

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