Historic firsts in American book printing on display in Palm Beach

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In what language would you say the first printed Bible in America was written? If you guessed English, you are wrong. It was in Algonquin, translated by a missionary in the Boston area with help from members of the tribe, and printed in 1663.

Perhaps the British government allowing only the Royal Printer in England to print English versions of the popular King James Bible had something to do with the Algonquins being the first.

Little-known facts in the history of American printed books are highlighted in the exhibition “We believe in god: First impressions of the Bible and founding documents of the David M. Rubenstein Americana collection “at The Society of the Four Arts.

"Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God" was the first Bible printed in America.  It was written in Algonquin and printed in 1663 by Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson.

The 18 rare books in the exhibit are from the first American editions – the first book printed in America, the first book of music, the first Hebrew Bible, the first Bible printed by a woman, and more.

The exhibit, which covers the first two centuries of American history, also includes first impressions of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

“These are historical documents on the founding of our country and still very much anchored in certain religious traditions and ideologies, so the title ‘In God We Trust’ extends well to all the different objects,” said Rebecca Dunham, head of Four Arts. of fine arts and curator.

The most famous book in the exhibition is the Bay Psalm Book, aka “The Whole Booke of Psalmes, Faithfully Translated in English Meter”, the first book printed in America. It was printed in 1640 by Stephen Daye, an untrained British printer who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The printing press was transported across the ocean by a minister, who died shortly after arriving. Daye was forced to resume the press because the minister had paid for his family’s passage.

Rubenstein bought the book in 2013 for almost $ 14.2 million, setting an auction record for a printed book. It is one of 11 known copies of the 1700-pound edition.

In addition to being an American collector, Rubenstein is chairman of the board of directors of the Smithsonian Institution and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and co-founder and executive co-chairman of investment firm The Carlyle Group. He and Deborah Rutter, President of the Kennedy Center, will speak on January 12 at the Four Arts as part of the O’Keeffe Lecture Series, which is open to members this year.

The heart of the exhibition – the books – was organized by the New York Historical Society in collaboration with the collector. Dunham personalized the exhibition by working with the Historical Society to enrich it with five sample prints from the founding documents of Rubenstein’s collection.

"The Psalms of David," printed by James Parker in 1767, was the first American musical book printed from type.

The show puts visitors in the mood with a recording of choir students from Palm Beach Atlantic University sing hymns from “The Psalms of David”, the first American music book printed from characters. The book was printed in 1767 by James Parker for the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Francis Hopkinson, the composer who set the text to music, was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

A section created by IS projects, a publicly accessible print and book art studio in Fort Lauderdale, explains how the first books were printed and shows examples of the tools and materials used.

There is also an extensive self-guided online tour, accessible at fourarts.oncell.com with code 8023.

Dunham’s labels for books reveal the stories behind them.

The printers Christoph Sauer and his son, also Christoph, are good examples. The elder Sauer produced the first American Bible printed in a European (German) language in 1743. His son followed in his footsteps, creating the first Bible printed on American paper in 1763 and the first Bible printed using manufacturing type American in 1776.

When the British occupied Philadelphia in 1776, some locals were suspicious of the young Sauer because he refused to take an oath of allegiance to Pennsylvania. He refused because he was a member of a religious group that believed in pacifism.

A mob kidnapped Sauer, ransacked his press and sold his property. The British used pages from his 1776 Bible for firewood, horse bedding, cartridge paper, and rifle wad, which led to its nickname, the “Rifle Wad Bible.”

The prints of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights also have some interesting stories.

“My goal in collecting them is to share them with my fellow citizens and not to hide them in plain sight,” Rubenstein said in his introduction to the section. “How can we better make our democracy the embodiment of what the founding generation dreamed of and set in motion? ”

Copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were printed in newspapers as the documents were debated.

An 1823 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence was started by John Quincy Adams, whose father, John Adams was one of the signatories, to commemorate the document’s 50th anniversary. His motives may seem familiar. At the time, the country was politically divided and Adams wanted to help unify the nation by circulating copies to rulers and officials.

The exhibition is visible until January 17 and from January 30 to February 30. 28 at the Quatre Arts.


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