NEW YORK - The first book printed in what is today the United States of America sold for US$14 million (S$18 million) at auction in New York on Tuesday, becoming the world's most expensive printed book.
The translation of Biblical psalms "The Bay Psalm Book" was printed by Puritan settlers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 and sold at a one-lot auction in just minutes by Sotheby's.
Bidding opened at US$6 million and closed swiftly at a hammer price of US$12.5 million, rising to US$14.165 million once the buyer's premium was incorporated.
The book, with its browning pages and gilt edges, was displayed in a glass case behind the auctioneer to a relatively small crowd who attended the less than five-minute auction in person.
The settlers, who came to America to seek religious freedom, had set about making their own preferred translation from the Hebrew original of the Old Testament book after arriving from Europe.
Sotheby's named the buyer as David Rubenstein, the billionaire American financier and philanthropist. He was in Australia and his bid was conducted by telephone.
Sotheby's had valued the book at US$15-30 million, but denied any disappointment in the sale price reached Tuesday.
David Redden, auctioneer and head of Sotheby's books said US$14.165 million "represents a new world record for any printed book."
The previous record was US$11.5 million, reached when a copy of John James Audubon's "Birds of America" sold at Sotheby's in December 2010.
Rubenstein plans to share the psalm book with the American public by loaning it to a number of libraries around the country and placing it on long-time loan to one of them, Redden said.
"We're very very pleased about this purchase. If you recall David Rubenstein also brought the Magna Carta from us back in 2007 for the same reason, to make sure Americans would understand the significance of their heritage," he added.
"We greatly appreciate his interest in the sale," Redden said.