October 10

In a letter written from the Massachusetts Bay Colony at Salem to a friend in Bermuda on October 10, 1638, the Rev. Hugh Peter said: “Wee have a printery here and think to goe to worke with some special things, and if you have anything you may send it safely by these [Captain of the vessel delivering the message].”

The printery to which he referred was that established by a dissenting minister, Jose Glover, who had brought with him from England a press, types, and paper, and of course a printer, one Stephen Day from Cambridge. With Day were three manservants, his wife, two sons, and a stepson. Day had bonded himself and his men “to labor and worke with and for the said Josse Glover and his assignes in the trade which the said Stephen now useth in New England. . . .”

This bond described Day as a locksmith, and nothing was said about starting a press in the Colony. No doubt this was a subterfuge adopted to avoid problems with the government concerning the establishment of a press in America by the Puritans. The first printer of the English colonies may indeed have been a locksmith, as Day took up that trade when he retired from the printing office in 1647.

The first piece of printing to issue from the shop was a broadside, The Freeman’s Oath, of which no copy is known to exist. This was followed by an eight-page almanac, which also has not survived. Then began the lengthy task of producing a book of psalms. The type used is a small-bodied “English” which is similar to the present-day size of 14-point. Larger types were used for display, along with Greek and Hebrew characters, and an assortment of ornaments which were set into the title page. As an example of the printer’s art the little book of 294 unnumbered pages approximately 4½ x 7 inches in size, would receive little enough attention. The typesetting is extremely careless, abounding with errors of punctuation and word-breaking. But this first American book was not at all untypical of provincial printing in the England of the same period.

The press used by Day is purported to be in the museum maintained by the Vermont Historical Society at Montpelier, but as the Bay Colony printing office eventually used three different presses, there is some doubt that the Montpelier press is the one used to print the Bay Psalm Book.

Of the 1700 copies printed there are now but eleven known copies of the Bay Psalm Book, the most desirable American book in existence for collectors. Three of them are considered to be perfect, although even these are slightly marred. The only copy outside of the United States is in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. The Van Sinderin copy in Brooklyn, New York is the only one still in private hands. The last copy to appear at auction was the one acquired by Yale University in 1948 for the sum of $151,000.

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