Debby Kuenstner discusses the recent sale of The Bay Psalm Book by Boston's Old South Church

December 2, 2013

On November 25, Boston’s historic Old South Church sold at auction a copy of the Bay Psalm Book, a book published by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony around 1640 and believed to be the first book printed in the United States. The book sold for $14.2 million, following a years-long discussion among congregants about the sale of the Church’s heritage assets.

Old South Church, located in Copley Square, dates back to the 1670’s. In part, because maintaining such an old an ornate building is costly, the congregation decided to sell the book and other artifacts to support the Church. Debby Kuenstner, Chief Investment Officer at Wellesley, is a trustee at the Old South Church and attended the auction. Kuenstner said the auction took under four minutes. The book sold to American businessman and philanthropist David Rubenstein. He said he plans to lend it to libraries around the country.

Kuenstner was a guest on WGBH News on November 27 where she spoke about the sale and what it means for the church. “This is a great outcome,” Kuenstner told WGBH’s Jared Bowen. The Church had taken the book on tour around the country and, Kuenstner said, “As the book toured the country, people drove hundreds of miles to see the book because it is so rare and such an important part of American history. To think that it’s going to have that greater access… is a wonderful thing.”

Kuenstner also said that the Church has always thought access to the text was important and has provided a scanned copy of the text on their website for years.

The Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of the church, told the Associated Press that the sale is “life-changing for the ministries [the Church] can do.”

About 1,700 copies of The Bay Psalm Book were produced in 1640, about two decades after the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth. There are only 11 copies still known to be in existence today. The last copy offered for public sale sold in 1947 for $150,000.

Watch Kuenstner’s interview on the WGBH website.