Saturday, September 28, 2013

1640 Puritan Psalter to be auctioned by Sotheby's

Dear Great Grandfather Thomas Thacher,
One does not expect, when living in 21st century Montgomery County Texas, to read an article in the morning paper referring to an item that might well have been used by a 9th great grandfather who died 326 years ago. That's what happened to me yesterday. The third page of the Conroe Courier led with an article from the Associated Press entitled, "1640 Puritan psalter goes on display in Houston."
The article went on to describe "The Bay Psalm Book", which will be displayed Thursday at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, as one of two owned by Boston's Old South Church.

A Psalter is sort of a hymnal. The psalms in the Bible were written to be sung. A psalter divided the poems by meter so they could be set to music, Beginning in 1620, the Pilgrims and Puritans had been using Psalters that they had brought to Massachusetts from England and Holland. The "Bay Psalm Book" was the first psalter printed in Massachusetts Bay Colony by Stephen Day in 1640. Members of the church leadership had been dissatisfied with the translations of the Psalms from their original Hebrew in their original Psalters so created a panel of their Ministers to undertake a new translation. Their creation is said to have been used for more than a century. Wikipedia provides a transcription of the title page of the 1640 first edition;

                                                          The Whole Book of Psalmes
                                                               396104         Faithfully
                                                             Translated into English
                                                          Whereunto is prefixed a discourse
                                                      declaring not only the lawfullnes, but also
                                                       the necessity of the heavenly Ordinance
                                                             of singing Scripture Psalmes in
                                                                     the Churches of God
                                                                Cambridge, Mass. Stephen Day
                                                                     Imprinted, 1640

I know you were the first pastor of what we call the "Old South Church" in Boston taking the pulpit there 16 February 1670. You would have called it the Third Church. As these Psalters were used for a hundred years, I imagine that you had your hands on this copy as well as many others.

Today, there are only 10 known copies of the 1640 Psalter left. Two of the copies are owned by the congregation descendant from yours. The Old South Church has a congregation of more than 350 and meets in a 138 year old building that is showing its age. They have made the decision to part with one of their two copies of the Psalter. It's auction by Sotheby's (our premier auction house) is expected to net the church nearly 30 million dollars. The church is planning on using the funds generated by the sale to establish an endowment to maintain their building.

Somehow, I am certain that you would approve of their decision to sell though be somewhat stunned by the price this old hymnal is expected to bring.


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