There’s quite a bit of buzz here in Salem about a particular lot in an upcoming “Printed and Manuscript Americana” auction at Swann Auction Galleries: #84, a hitherto unknown edition of the Bay Psalm Book with Salem connections. It caught my attention a few weeks ago because of its importance in printing history, but of course the headlines here in Salem are all about its connections to the Witch Trials of 1692: it was owned by one of the judges, Jonathan Corwin and his wife Elizabeth, and later passed into the family of one of the trial’s victims, John Proctor. His descendants have held on to the book (which they apparently called “the witch book”) for over a century and are now parting with it. I wonder if its estimate of $30,000-$40,000 is due to its bibliographic importance or its ties to Salem?
I think it’s the former but I could be wrong. Two years ago, a copy of the first edition (1640) owned by the Old South Church in Boston set a new world record for a printed book at a Sotheby’s New York auction when it sold for $14, 165.000. The estimate for this newly-discovered seventh edition might be low.
No doubt the Bay Psalm Book will be the star, but several other items in this auction caught my attention: a first edition of one of the most important–if not the most important–early histories of English exploration, Richard Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589), a really neat anthology of shipwrecks and maritime disasters titled God’s Wonders in the Great Deep, or, a Token for Mariners (I am very slowly writing a book on wonder in early modern England and I had not thought of it in this way before–as deliverance from disaster), an engraving of a sketch made by British spy Major John André on the morning of his execution illustrating his voyage to meet Benedict Arnold (I’ve always had a thing for André), and last but not least, the expansive diary of a young Vermont woman named Elizabeth Houghton, including recollections from 1820 to 1836 and an AMAZING vernacular drawing of two women dressed in WILD “regency” dresses. Quite a treasure trove, this Anglo– Americana auction.
Lots from Swann Auction Galleries Printed and Manuscript Americana Auction, February 4, 2016: #84, an unknown 7th edition of the Bay Psalm Book; #152, a first edition of Hakluyt’s Principall Navigations; #177, God’s Wonders in the Great Deep (1731);#29, an engraving of Major André’s last drawing; and #270, Elizabeth Houghton’s Diary.
January 29th, 2016 at 12:06 pm
Given that this edition of the Bay Psalm Book was printed in 1693, a year after the trials, anyone who spends that kind of money to own something that belonged to one of the judges but did not even exist at the time of the trials seems like a foolish decision, at best. Let’s hope that’s not the ultimate buyer’s motivation.
I, for one, don’t understand why it’s called “The Witch Book.” Other than who owned it, it has no connection to “witches,” unless I’m missing something.
January 29th, 2016 at 12:26 pm
I’m with you! Seems odd that the family would call it that when their descendant was an innocent victim.
February 11th, 2016 at 7:40 am
You know Hakluyt was Anglo-Welsh? he was a contact of Ortelius and a man of considerable influence, being the personal chaplain to Sir Robert Cecil, the Principal Secretary of State to Elizabeth herself (and later James I as well). According to Hill, he was brought to cosmology through the 107th Psalm.
February 11th, 2016 at 7:47 am
I do! Very influential and interesting man.
February 11th, 2016 at 7:41 am
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