Auctions | January 8, 2016

Previously Unknown Edition of the Famed Bay Psalm Book Comes to Swann


New York—On Thursday, February 4, Swann Galleries will offer Printed & Manuscript Americana, featuring historically significant texts, manuscripts relating to privateering and whaling, as well as collections relating to the Arctic, California as an island, and more.

            The star among several important historical texts is a previously unknown seventh edition of The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New-Testament, more commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book. The first edition of the Bay Psalm Book was the first book to be printed in what is now the United States. After a few editions, printing of the Bay Psalm returned to England, and was previously thought to have remained there until the eighth edition. This copy, apparently the first American edition after forty years of printing abroad, not only sheds new light on the history of this significant book, but further fascinates with its provenance. Originally owned by Salem Witch Trial judge Jonathan Corwin and his wife Elizabeth, this copy eventually passed into the hands of descendants of John Proctor, one of the victims of the trials. The family kept the book as an heirloom, referring to it as “the witch book.” The seventh edition of the Bay Psalm book is estimated at $30,000 to $40,000.

            Other historically significant texts include a first edition two-volume set of The Federalist: A Collection of Essays Written in Favour of the New Constitution, 1788 ($90,000 to $120,000). The sale also feature two editions of Thomas Jefferson’s only full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia: the first published edition (in French) from 1786 [1787] ($30,000 to $40,000), and the first edition published in English, 1787 ($25,000 to $35,000).


Also featured is America’s most famous reward poster, a letterpress broadside touting a $100,000 Reward! The Murderer of our Late Beloved President Abraham Lincoln is Still at Large, Washington, 20 April 1865 ($20,000 to $30,000). Another highlight is an engraving made from a sketch drawn by British spy Major John André on the morning of his execution. The engraving, A Representation of Major John André … going from the Vulture Sloop of War to the Shore of Haverstraw Bay, depicts André being rowed across the Hudson to his fateful meeting with Benedict Arnold, and was printed circa 1781 ($15,000 to $25,000). It is the first known appearance of the print at auction since 1869.  

            Among manuscripts are multiple items related to various seafaring ventures. The letterbook of Boston merchant and privateer agent Paschal N. Smith records the privateer fleet under his purview during the American Revolution, as well as his correspondence with multiple key figures including Benedict Arnold, Horatio Gates, Henry Knox and Baron von Steuben. The letterbook is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. There are also two manuscript journals related to whaling: one by Lewis Cresse that details early whaling efforts off of Cape May, New Jersey from 1752-66 ($8,000 to $12,000), and the journal of Mrs. Parnell Smith Fisher, wife of a whaling captain in the South Pacific, 1885 to 1887 ($4,000 to $6,000).  Also of interest in the manuscript category are a group of four Autograph Letters Signed to Ernesto “Che” Guevara: two from his close friend and travel companion Alberto Granado (of Motorcycle Diaries fame, one from Alberto’s brother Tomas and one from Che’s father, Ernest Guevara Lynch. The letters are estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.

            This auction will also feature materials from several private collections, including The Arctic Collection of Ray Edinger, which features several first edition books chronicling Arctic exploration such as John Ross’s A Voyage of Discovery … for the Purpose of Exploring Baffin’s Bay, 1819 ($2,000 to $3,000), and Henry Ellis’s A Voyage to Hudson’s-Bay …, 1748 ($2,000 to $3,000). Items from the collection of Glen McLaughlin relating to the cartographic fallacy of California as an island, as well as manuscript material from the collection of Milton Slater are also present.

The auction will be held Thursday, February 4, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The auction preview will be open to the public, with an exhibition opening Saturday, January 30 from noon to 5 p.m.; Monday, February 1 through Wednesday, February 3 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Thursday, February 4 from 10 a.m. to noon.

An illustrated auction catalogue will be available for $35 from Swann Galleries, Inc., 104 East 25th Street, New York, NY 10010, or online at

For further information and to make advance arrangements to bid by telephone during the auction, please contact Specialist Rick Stattler at, or via phone at 212-254-4710 ext. 27. 

First image: Lot 84: The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs or The Bay Psalm Book, the previously unknown seventh edition of the first book printed in North America, Boston, 1693. Estimate $30,000 to $40,000. 

Second image: Lot 171: $100,000 Reward!, letterpress broadside, Washington, 20 April 1865. Estimate $20,000 to $30,000.