New York-based Swann Auction Galleries expected to sell a previously unknown book with ties to the Salem witch trials for $30,000-$40,000, according to auction director Rick Stattler. Instead, the seventh edition of the Bay Psalm Book sold for 180,000. After the “buyer’s premium” was added, the total cost was $221,000, the Boston Globe reports.
“It has a double connection to the Salem Witch Trials,” Stattler said. “The original owners were Jonathan Corwin and his wife, Elizabeth.”
According to Salem News, Corwin was a judge in the Salem witch trials during the 1692 trials, when 19 accused witches were hanged and another was crushed to death. His home during the trials, now owned by the city of Salem, is known as the Witch House. It is the only structure still standing with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. Corwin lived in the house for more than forty years, and it remained in his family until the mid-19th century.
— Boston Globe Books (@BGlobeBooks) February 5, 2016
The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between February, 1692, and May, 1693, and resulted in the executions of twenty accused witches. The most infamous trials were conducted by the Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 in Salem Town. Public response to the events continue to this day — as explored through art and literature.
According to Stattler, the Bay Psalm Book dates back long before the witch trials, and was believed to have been printed only in Europe, until the Witch Book surfaced.
“There had been no books printed in America until that point,” Stattler said. “The Puritans in Boston wanted their own Psalm book to worship in their own manner, distinct from the Anglican Psalm books that were available and imported from England.”
The auction house procured the book through the descendants of John Proctor, one of the men convicted and hanged as a witch in 1692.
“Knowing it came from one of the judges of the trial, they kept it as an heirloom and called it ‘The Witch Book,’ ” Stattler said. “It was brought in [to Swann] by one of the descendants of the Proctor family, who thought it was time to part with it.”
— Roadtrippers (@Roadtrippers) January 20, 2016
The book is described as “a more literal translation of the Bible’s Book of Psalms.” An excerpt of text inside this particular book reads: “Printed and Sold by Benjamin Harris at London-Coffee House over-against Old-Meeting House in Boston, New England. 1693.”
“When I realized this was an edition that had never been known before — of one of the most important American books ever — I think that added more to the importance,” Stattler said. Prior to the auction, he declined to identify any possible bidders for The Witch Book, and as ABC.com notes, it’s unknown who won the bidding.
“All of our customers are confidential, but there has been quite a stir among people who collect early American printing,” Stattler said. “This book is unique, but even material of similar importance and value doesn’t just come up on the market frequently.”
The Salem witch trials paralyzed the Puritan community of Salem with hysteria, so the Witch Book is regarded as “the star among several important historical texts” sold on the subject. News of the auction comes weeks after experts said they know with certainty the exact location where the Salem witch hangings occurred.
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