April 16, 2015 "First Among Many: The Bay Psalm Book and Early Moments in American Printing"

Exhibition Opens June 4

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Kimberli Curry (202) 707-3822
Website: First Among Many: The Bay Psalm Book ..."

A new exhibition at the Library of Congress will tell the story of early printing in the American colonies, spanning 100 years, as printing evolved from a colonial necessity to the clarion of freedom.

“First Among Many: The Bay Psalm Book and Early Moments in American Printing” will open Thursday, June 4, and will close on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. The exhibition will be free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, in the South Gallery on the second level of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. “First Among Many” is made possible through the generous support of David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-CEO of The Carlyle Group.

At the centerpiece of the exhibition will be two copies of the Bay Psalm Book, officially titled “The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre” (1640). One copy will be drawn from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress. The second copy, which belongs to Rubenstein, will be on display from June 4 through Saturday, Aug. 8. Americans will see these texts together for the first time. Both copies were at one time in the library of the Rev. Thomas Prince and, therefore, originally part of the historic Old South Church Library in Boston.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, “The Library is extremely grateful to David Rubenstein for sharing his extraordinary copy of the Bay Psalm Book. The celebration of this book is the impetus for the Library’s exhibition. The Bay Psalm Book is a book of many firsts—the first English-language book in North America, the first book of American poetry, and the first instance in a long and vital history of printing in America.”

Rubenstein said, “I appreciate the hard work of Jim Billington and the Library of Congress professionals in organizing this exhibition. I hope those interested in our nation’s early history will take the time to see this unique assemblage of American treasures.”

Approximately 30 additional Library of Congress treasures will be on display, including the Dunlap Broadside of the Declaration of Independence (1776); “Poor Richard’s Almanac” by Benjamin Franklin (1741 and 1742); “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776); “The Federalist,” essays by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay (1788); “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” by Phillis Wheatley (1773); “The Power of Sympathy,” the first novel printed in the colonies (1789); samples of colonial newspapers from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Williamsburg, Virginia; and the Algonquian Indian Bible, translation by John Eliot (1663).

In the exhibition, The Bay Psalm Book will be seen as launching an approach to publication that was particular to colonial America. Early American printing often was rugged, immediate and practical, fueled by a sense of purpose and devotion. Publications—sermons, pamphlets, newspapers, broadsides—gave shape to the American cause and ideology.

Printing was brought to English North America in 1638. Stephen Daye, a locksmith by training, was under contract to establish a press in North America upon his arrival. In 1640, less than two years after landing in Massachusetts Bay, Daye and his son Matthew printed “The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre,” the first book printed in what is now the United States. The Bay Psalm Book emerged as the first among many landmark American printings—materials that registered American thought, devotion and revolution. Only 11 copies of The Bay Psalm Book from 1640 are known to exist today.

An online version of the exhibition will be made available at www.loc.gov/exhibits/.

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds more than 800,000 books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, title pages, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The core of the collection documents the history of the printed book – from more than 8,000 items printed before 1501 to vast collections covering the Renaissance and the 18th century. More than 100 special collections are maintained, including the personal libraries of Harry Houdini and Susan B. Anthony, author collections of Walt Whitman and Hans Christian Andersen, subject collections on gastronomy and cryptography, and generic collections such as dime novels and Bibles. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/rr/rarebook/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 160 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.


PR 15-061
ISSN 0731-3527