American Books Printed Before the Bay Psalm Book?

The Bay Psalm Book is often described as the first book printed in America. Issued in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640, it was certainly the first book printed in the English colonies of America, and the first book printed in what later became the United States. A copy sold last year for $14,165,000. However, it was hardly the first book printed in the Americas, as printing began in the Spanish colonies at least 100 years before the Bay Psalm Book was made.

On November 6, Swann will offer the spectacular Latin Americana Library of Dr. W. Michael Mathes, which includes hundreds of books printed in the Spanish colonies, a selection of important European books on the Spanish colonies and a small group of important early manuscripts. Among the highlights are twenty books printed in the Americas before the Bay Psalm Book: twelve printed in Mexico City from 1556 to 1635; seven printed in Lima, Peru from 1595 to 1636; and one printed in 1612 at the remote missionary outpost of Juli, Peru. Also included are several 16th-century Mexican notarial forms and a 1623 Mexican broadside.  

Estatutos generales de Barcelona, the first Mexican printing of the regulations of the Franciscan order, 1585.

Some of these are important works and great rarities. Speculum conjugiorem by Alonso de la Veracruz is the first book on marriage printed in the New World, and was produced by Juan Pablos, the first printer in the Americas, in Mexico in 1556.  Bartholomé de Ledesma’s De septem novae legis sacramentis summarium, 1566, is a complete first edition of a treatise explaining seven sacraments for use in the Mexican church. A 1585 printing of the regulations for the Franciscan Order, Estatutos generales de Barcelona, features two woodcut illustrations, and the first Spanish-Aymara dictionary, Vocabulario de la lengua Aymara, printed in southeastern Peru in 1612 at a small Jesuit press on the shore of Lake Titicaca, hasn’t been seen at auction since 1981.