The first book written in what is today the USA fetched $US14.2 million ($A15.59 million) in New York, 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 on Tuesday.
Bidding opened at $US6 million and closed swiftly at a hammer price of $US12.5 million, rising to $US14.165 million once the buyer’s premium was incorporated.
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.
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 $US15-$US30 million, but denied any disappointment in the sale price reached on Tuesday.
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 $US30.8 million.
Sotheby’s said it was delighted to have set a new world record for any printed book at auction with the $US14.165 million price tag.
The previous record was $US11.5 million, reached when a copy of John James Audubon’s Birds of America sold at Sotheby’s in December 2010.
Rubenstein plans to share the psalm book with the American public by loaning it to a number of libraries across the country and placing it on long-time loan to one of them, David Redden, auctioneer and head of Sotheby’s books.
“If you recall David Rubenstein also brought the Magna Carta from us back in 2007 for the same reason, to make sure Americans would understand the significance of their heritage,” he added.
The Magna Carta sold for $US21.3 million in New York. It was one of only 17 existing copies of the 800-year-old English royal manuscript setting out the rights of man.
The book was sold by the Old South Church in Boston to benefit its work in the historic city. The same church possesses another copy of the Bay Psalm Book.