First book printed in America on display in St. Louis

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)--  Selby Kiffer can smellhistory when he sees it.

"That's one way you can tell if the paper has been cleaned," says Selby Kiffer, an international book specialist with Sotheby's.  "So I have gotten odd looks when consigners have brought in a book and I bring it up to my nose."

He knows the Bay Psalm Book sitting here in the Mercantile Library is important.

"It's the first book printed in America, printed in 1640 by Puritans who had left England, beginning about 11 years earlier seeking religious freedom," says Kiffer.

Sotheby's is auctioning this collection of psalms in November where it's expected to sell for $15-$30 million .

That's more than $83,000 per page!

You might recall the pilgrims had landed at Plymouth Rock just 20 years before this collection of rhyming couplets came out.

"While this is one of the rarest books in the world and will only be here for a short time, the Mercantile is using this opportunity to showcase some of their firsts right here in Missouri," says Patrick Clark.

Like the first newspaper in Missouri or the first St. Louis city directory, or...

"The first book of poems and Birds of America first edition," says Mercantile Library director John Hoover.  "So I thought, 'Yeah I'll put some books out.'  They're sort of the descendents of the great book itself."

This page turner is in pretty good condition.

"It was made of cotton and linen," says Kiffer.  "The slurry that the paper was made from was just beaten mechanically.  So there was no wood pulp, there were no chemicals used in the paper."

All organic, and what the first founders held in their hands some 20 generations ago.

"That's pure history, but there's something else that transcends that and that's the way that we link to our ancestors - through old books," says a beaming Hoover.

You might say we're bound to a book that captures our senses and census of a young nation.