Bay Psalm Book

In the quiet sanctuary of the soon-to-be-evicted Lenox Library, where repose in peace for yet a little season so many rare and priceless manuscripts and printed books drawn thither by its founder from the Scriptoriums and Presses of both the old and new worlds,


there is a copy of ” The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” printed in 1651 by Samuel Green, the successor of Stephen Daye, New England’s first typographer. This little volume – only 2 1/2×4 1/4 inches in size – of about 400 pages, is known as the THIRD edition of the Bay Psalm Book. It is of greater rarity (for this, I understand, is the only copy of it known) than its predecessor and namesake which enjoys the distinction of being the first book printed in British North America, but it is hardly necessary to add that it does not approach it in money value.


It came from Mr. Charles H. Kalbfleisch’s remarkable collection, whom it is said to have cost one thousand dollars, and was presented to the Library by Mr. Alexander Maitland. It is well and stoutly bound in brown calf, the covers held together by leathern and brass clasps, the only attempt at ornamentation being a narrow gold line traced around the borders of each side, a small centre ornament, and the initials F. B. If it is, as we presume, the original binding, it is one of the earliest examples extant of bookbinding executed in the Province of Massachusetts, and consequently in this part of North America, for the old Bay State may pride itself upon having been the cradle of Bibliopegy, as well as of Typography, in the new and unsettled land of our forefathers. This edition of the Psalms turned into Metre is known as the “Bay Psalm Book Improved.” The nature of the revision which the first issue of this noted book underwent, will be seen by the parallels we have drawn below of the first, second and sixth stanzas, of the First Psalm, in the two editions.


The Bay Psalm Book


O Blessed man, That in th’ advice
of wicked doeth not walk;
nor stand in sinners way, nor sit
in chayre of scornfull folk.


But in the law of Jehovah,
is his longing delight:
and in his law doth meditate
by day and eke by night.


For of the righteous men the Lord
acknowledgeth the way:
but the way of ungodly men,
shall utterly decay.
The Bay Psalm Book Improvised


O blessed man yt walks not in
th’ advice of wich men
Nor standeth in ye sinners way
nor scorners sits in.


But be upon Jehovah’s law
doth get its whole delight;
And in his law doth meditate
both in the day and night.


For of the righteous men the LORD
acknowlegeth the way
Whereas the way of wicked men
shall utterly decay.

The Bay Psalm Book passed through many editions without further alterations, until it was revised in 1758, by the devout and learned theologian, Rev. Thomas Prince.


The copy of this edition in the Lenox Library is probably in its original morocco binding, for the same tooling precisely appears upon a more ordinary copy of the book, bound in dark brown calf of which the same library is the owner. Special care was doubtless taken with this particular book, as it was a presentation copy from the reverend author to ” The Honourable Thomas Huchinson Esq., Lieut. Govr.y &c., of The Province of the Massachusetts Bay in NE” but whether it was bound in England or this country is a question the writer admits his inability to answer. A full account of the Bay Psalm Book and of the numerous American, English and Scotch editions through which it passed, will be found in ” A History of Music in New England” by George Hood, Boston, 1846. The last edition of this noted Psalmody issued in this country, was in the year 1762.

Our first typographers were, as has been already stated, of necessity their own bookbinders. The columns of our early colonial newspapers contain, almost without exception, advertisements announcing the preparedness of the printers and publishers thereof, to undertake the binding of books. These paragraphs recur as constantly as do the now seemingly shameful proclamations of rewards offered for the return of runaway slaves, and notices of slaves for sale, which, with news from Europe three to six months old, make up the contents of these little weazen-faced, sallow-complected four-page journals. In Mr. William Bradford’s Gazette the following advertisement appears, with the regularity of clock-work :
” Printed and sold by William Bradford in New York where advertisements are taken in and where you may have old books, new Bound, either Plain or Gilt, and Money for Linen Rags.” The copy in the Lenox Library of “The Mohawk Prayer Book”* translated by Lawrence Claesse, and printed by Bradford in 1715, is believed to be in its original binding. If this be so, it supplies, I take for granted, an example of the “plain ” bindings, which our proto-typographer announces, as above, his ability to execute. It is a binding of ” dull and ugly plainness ” in sprinkled sheep, the edges spattered with red, but mind ye! should you strip off that old time-stained leather jacket

* Mohawk Prayer-Book. ” The Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, Church Catechism, Family Prayers, and Several Chapters of the Old and New-Testament, translated into the Mahaque Indian Language, by Lawrence Claesse, Interpreter to William Andrews, Missionary to the Indians, from the Honourable and Reverend the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. ” Ask of me and I will give thee the Heathen for thine Inheritance and the Utmost Parts of the Earth for thy Possession, Psalm 2.8.” Printed by William Bradford in New York, 1715.

and replace it with one in crushed levant, triple-gilt by Chambolle, Lortic, or some other Maitre moderne de Bibliopegie du premier rangy you would simply rob it of at least one-half its value, in the eyes of every Book-Antiquary of judgment and experience.


Similar notices to the one in William Bradford’s Gazette appear in the ” Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury” published by Andrew Bradford, and in the ” Pennsylvania Gazette, Printed by Benjamin Franklin, Post Master at the New Printing Office near the Market [Philadelphia] , where advertisements are taken in and book-binding is done reasonably in the best manner.”
William Parks, printer and publisher of The Maryland Gazette” (1729),likewise puts himself forward as a binder of books in the following language: ” N. B.- Old Books are well bound by him”
and Henry De Foreest advertises in his ” New York Evening Post” January 17th, 1750, that “all sorts of blank books for Merchants’ Accompts are for sale by the printer thereof, Also Old Books Neatly Bound, Lettered or Gilt very expeditiously”. These extracts, taken at random from the dusty files of American journals of the Eighteenth century, will suffice to show how generally in those primitive times the printing and the binding, – such as it was, – of a book, were the allotted task of one individual or business firm. As an exception to prove this rule we note the advertisement in Bradford’s Gazette, September, 1734, of one Joseph Johnson, that “he is now set up Book-binding for himself as formerly, and lives in Dukes St. (commonly called Bayard St.) near the Old-Slip Market; (New York) where all Persons in Town or Country, may have their Books carefully and neatly new Bound either Plain or Gilt reasonable.”


In Samuel Willard’s “Body of Divinity” Boston, 1726, one of the controversial writings of which the literature of Puritan New England so largely consisted, we have an example of American book-making from start: to finish.* It is a large folio – one of the first books of its size printed in New England – bound in foxy brown sheep-skin with panelled sides, and so far as the makers were able to accomplish that result, it is a counterpart of contemporaneous English binding. We copied, as best we could, and I fear without proper acknowledgment, both the exteriors and the interiors of the popular English books of the day. As one out of many instances of this practice that might be supplied, we reproduce on a reduced scale one of the plates in a London (1794) edition, of a little work, on the Newtonian system of Philosophy, and one from a reprint of it published in Philadelphia in 1803.
*A Compleat Body of Divinity etc., by the Reverend and Learned Samuel Willard, M.A., Boston, in New England.
Printed by B. Green and S. Kneeland for B. Eliot and D. Henchman and sold at their shops. MDCCXXVI

The latter is illustrated with exact reproductions of the engravings in the London edition, except that the plates are reversed and enlarged as shown on pages 48 and 49. These copies were engraved by William Rollinson, an artist who enjoyed the unique distinction of having chased the buttons upon the coat worn by Washington, at his first inauguration as President of the United States, in Federal Hall, New York. Rollinson’s descendants are still engaged in the business of copper-plate engraving in this city.

Isaiah Thomas, whose position as the foremost and most prolific (it is said that at one time he had sixteen presses in use and owned eight book-stores) of New England’s eighteenth-century printers, is now clearly recognized, was author, antiquarian, typographer, paper-manufacturer, bookbinder and book-seller all in one. Of which of the disciples of Gutenberg of the present day can all this be said ? That Thomas was also a born bibliophile will, I think, appear by what I shall presently relate.
The proclivity, amounting at times to a mania, of the ordinary bookbinder to plough ruthlessly through the leaves of a book, even though the process involves the snipping away of the entire margin and occasionally of a portion of the author’s text, is so well known to the fraternity of book-collectors as to have become proverbial. Listen to friend Thomas’s timely word of caution upon this vital point!
” The Directions to the Binder ” in the ” Elegiac Sonnets and other Poems by Charlotte Smith” published by Thomas at Worcester, Mass., in 1795, contain, in addition to careful instructions for the placing of the plates, this admonition to the binder: ” CUT THE BOOK As LARGE EACH WAY As IT WILL BEAR.”
These “directions ” of old Father Isaiah, with the addition of a short postscript to this effect, “AVOID WHENEVER POSSIBLE ANY USE OF THE KNIFE,” might well be engrossed in capital letters and hung upon the wall of every book-binder’s shop in the land. This articleic principle should be impressed with emphasis upon the mind of every apprentice to the art of book-binding, as one of the axioms of his craft.
Thomas states in his “advertisement” that the paper upon which the ” Elegiac Sonnets ” of Charlotte Smith is printed ” is a new business in America, and but lately introduced into Great Britain; it is the first manufactured by the editor”. He further informs us that the plates were executed, not by European engravers who settled in the United States, but by an artist who obtained his knowledge in this country. The book, therefore, is throughout of purely domestic manufacture.
This eminent Boston and Worcester printer, the Founder, President and Benefactor of the American Antiquarian Society (for which he erected a building at Worcester, Massachusetts), bound books in a variety of styles pursuant to the notice he inserted at the foot of the green paper covers in which the monthly parts of the Royal American Magazine, edited and published by him and Joseph Greenleaf, were issued, to wit: ” Book-binding performed in all its branches with great care and cheap.”
Thomas’s Chap-Books, such as ” The Devil and Dr. Faustus” were covered with a coarse and substantial brown canvas – a coat of buckram – than which, says Andrew Lang, there is nothing cheaper, neater or more durable. The numerous children’s books, ” Little Goody Two Shoes” ” The Juvenile Biographer” and the like, which, issued from the ” Columbian” as Thomas named his press, were clad in gay coats of gilt and brilliantly tinted papers, with intent to delight the eyes and conjure the pennies from the pockets of our grandparents, when they were yet in their knickerbockers and short frocks.


The plain leather bindings of Isaiah Thomas are, I judge, represented by the one shown in our plate, which covers a copy of ” The Psalms of David, Together with Hymns and Spiritual Songs, with Indexes, and Tables complete by Isaac Watts, D. D.,” Isaiah Thomas, Worcester, 1786. It is of sheepskin over oak boards, the former now decidedly the worse for wear. I have not been able to identify Thomas’s more elaborate bindings, if any such have survived to our time.