Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Book and the Founding of the United States and Its Religion

UPDATE: The book sold for $14million

A little old Psalm book has stirred some small controversy in Boston. According to the New York Times, a Bay Psalm Book from 1640 will be auctioned off at Sotheby's, and may fetch tens of millions of dollars on the 26th of November. A hefty sum for a church, like Boston's Old South Church, in need some building repairs. But the book is part of the church (and has more history than the well-known image of the Italian Gothic steeple from the nineteenth century), and the majority vote by the congregation to sell off the book caused the church historian, Jeff Makholm, to resign.

Michael Inman, curator of rare books at the New York Public Library, said this book is one of eleven existent of the early American Psalms. Since it was one of the first books ever printed in the colonies, the workmanship was not great, with some sloppy layout and misspellings. Hebrew characters were inserted with wood block cuts, while the rest of it was done with metal type. Nonetheless, Inman says,

“These 11 copies symbolize the introduction of printing into the British colonies, which was reflective of the importance placed on reading and education by the Puritans and the concept of freely available information, freedom of expression, freedom of the press. All that fed into the revolutionary impulse that gave rise to the United States."
Religious history also suggests how this "freely available information" and the book's small, hand held size, helped lead to the great mythology of the single individual, both as a citizen and a believer.