SALEM — A piece of Salem Witch Trials history is hitting the auction block next week.
Swann Auction Galleries, based in New York City, is gearing up for a “Printed and Manuscript Americana” auction on Feb. 4. Buried in the list of items, as Lot 84, is a previously unknown seventh edition of the Bay Psalm Book, which is expected to sell for between $30,000 and $40,000, according to auction director Rick Stattler.
“It has a double connection to the Salem Witch Trials,” Stattler said. “The original owners were Jonathan Corwin and his wife, Elizabeth.”
Jonathan Corwin was one of the judges during the Witchcraft Trials of 1692, when 19 accused witches were hanged and another was pressed to death. Corwin’s home during the trials, now owned by the city of Salem, is better known today as the Witch House.
The Bay Psalm Book goes back long before the witch trials, and it carries undertones of the eventual American Revolution, according to Stattler. The book’s first edition was printed in Cambridge in 1640.
“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 seventh edition was believed to have been printed only in Europe, until the Witch Book surfaced, according to Stattler.
Such discoveries are not unheard of.
“Early edition sizes were pretty small, and record-keeping wasn’t very strong,” Stattler said. “It isn’t inconceivable that they made no reference to it in manuscripts, and no daily [newspaper] existed at the time.”
The second connection to the Salem Witch Trials comes through the family that eventually took ownership of the book: the descendants of John Proctor, one of the men tried, 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.”
Stattler said there’s been a lot of chatter about the auction item, but he declined to identify any possible bidders.
“All of our customers are confidential, but there has been quite a stir among people who collect early American printing,” he said. “This book is unique, but even material of similar importance and value doesn’t just come up on the market frequently.”
Jay Finney, chief marketing officer for the Peabody Essex Museum, does not expect the museum to put in a bid.
“We’re not in the business of collecting materials around the Witch Trials,” Finney said. “We have a number of items, but we don’t have funds set aside to augment our collection.”
Representatives of the Witch House couldn’t be reached for comment.
The auction will be held Thursday, Feb. 4, from 10 a.m. to noon. More information is available at swanngalleries.com. Anyone interested can follow the bidding as it happens by visiting invaluable.com.