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Carlyle’s Rubenstein Pays $14.2 Million for 1640 Book

The Bay Psalm Book
'The Bay Psalm Book' fetched $14.2 million at Sotheby's in New York on Nov. 26, 2013, setting an auction record for a printed book. The buyer was David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of the Carlyle Group LP. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of the Carlyle Group LP, paid $14.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York yesterday for “The Bay Psalm Book,” the highest price for a printed book at auction.

The book, the first printed in America, will be exhibited in libraries across the U.S., Rubenstein, whose Carlyle Group is the second-biggest manager of alternatives to stocks and bonds, said today in a statement.

“I thought it was important to keep this historic American book in the country,” Rubenstein said today in an e-mailed statement. “I also thought I could expose more Americans to its significance -- and the importance of books to our country-- by having it displayed throughout the country at libraries which might not otherwise have a chance to display something quite so old and rare.”

Rubenstein in 2007 paid $21.3 million for a handwritten 13th century Magna Carta, also at Sotheby’s. The document will be the centerpiece of the new David M. Rubenstein Gallery at the National Archives in Washington, opening Dec. 10. One of Rubenstein’s two copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln is on loan to the White House, where it’s displayed at the Oval Office.

While “The Bay Psalm Book” fell short of its pre-sale low estimate of $15 million at Sotheby’s, its price surpassed the previous auction record for a printed book, established three years ago when a copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” sold for $11.5 million.

Benjamin Franklin

“The Bay Psalm Book” was consigned by Old South Church in Boston, where Benjamin Franklin was baptized and Samuel Adams was a member, to raise money for its ministries. It was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640 and contains 150 psalms from the Bible, translated from Hebrew Bible by the Puritan. Its first printing included 1,700 copies, of which only 11 volumes are known to have survived, according to the church’s website. The church owned two copies from the edition.

“This book was not critical to our mission and we wanted to convert it into fuel for our ministries,” said Nancy S. Taylor, senior minister and CEO of Old South Church, said in a telephone interview. “We have an extraordinary past. Our job today is the future of the church.”

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