Tiny book of psalms sells for £8.7m

Updated: 
The type's not easy to read, there's plenty of errors and it's on the scruffy side. Yet - Praise the Lord - this tiny psalm book has sold for £8.7m at a Sotheby's auction in New York. Only 11 copies are in existence. Its new owner is US private equity businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein.

Why would such an inauspicious book be so valuable?

Americana

London book dealer Peter Harrington told AOL Money that the intergalactic price ticket was down to one thing: Americana. Americans love to buy up their own history. "US prices are in a world of their own," he said. "It's the US equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible." Many copies of the book were printed, but through sheer hard use many were quick to wear out.

The Old South Church in Boston owned eleven copies of the book, originally published by Puritan settlers in Massachusetts in 1640. "Over the years they sloughed them off'," says Harrington. "Yale got one; they're all spoken for now. But they were down to the two best copies. They made a decision to sell one to make sure the church was financially secure."

Christies and Sotheby's then spent several months trying to bash each other over the head to try and get the most says Harrington. Sotheby's raised the bar towards $30m in pre-sale estimates. But failed. "They were flying a kite," says Harrington. "They spent six months flying the book around the country."

Read it

New owner David Rubenstein last year snapped up the Magna Carta at Sotheby's for $21.3m. "I bet they [Sotheby's] had him [Rubenstein] lined up," says Harrington. "We've got someone at the bottom end."

But why has the book so clearly touched a nerve? Ironically, it's partly because of the book's ordinariness that has hiked its value. "It's a book that was not created to be fancy or splendid or valuable in any way other than the significance of its content," Derick Dreher, director of Philadelphia's Rosenbach Library, told the BBC.

It was also the first book to be printed on the press of Puritan minister Joseph Glover. Many of those who came to America at the time were seeking religious freedom. It was America's first book. And you can read it here.