1697 John Playford Psalms

There was quite a search involved in our quest to find our original John Playford Psalm and Hymnbook that was in good enough condition to be scanned for reproduction. At last, we found one in Germany, of all places!  If this book could talk, what stories it could tell of its original printing in London in 1697 then its eventual journey all the way to Germany. I hope our replicas, as you carry them to various 18th century reenactment events, will also gather many exciting tales of fun, adventure, and worship.

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Our book of Psalms & Hymnals by John Playford  is completely full of musical notation.  It took quite a while to get it ready to reproduce.  We have spent the last year and a half transforming our original 1697 John Playford book of Psalms and Hymns  into the replica that we have available for you today.  This is the first replica of this particular Playford book ever made.  Most people have not had a chance to see this book for the last two hundred years.  We now have our replica ready for you.  Its title is, The Whole Book of Psalms:  With The Usual Hymns and Spiritual Songs.  Together With all the Ancient and Proper Tunes sung in Churches, with some of Later Use.  Composed in Three Parts, Cantus, Medius, & Bassus:  In a more Plain and Useful Method that hath been formerly.  Published, by John Playford.  The Third Edition, Corrected and Amended.



“This is such a gorgeous little book. When I show people the one James made for me, their eyes get huge and they gingerly turn the pages with a look of wonder.

From a historical standpoint, this is an important book for studying how music evolved during the English Reformation, and is probably the best volume to have for looking at how historic church music progressed and was understood by the people (Playford also assembled music books for dancing, and even the Puritans used Playford’s music books for teaching dancing).

If you don’t have this book, you will not regret getting it.”   Myric McBain

Bruce Jennings sent me this photo of himself reading from his Psalms & Hymns book by John Playford at the Jones Colonial Farm in the Northern most tip corner in Laurens County, South Carolina. 


Singing in 18th century churches

The “Precentor” was the singing leader in the colonial congregation. He stood before the congregation and sang the first verse to each Psalm, line by line. After each line the congregation would repeat the line until the first stanza was finished, and then the congregation would re-sing the first stanza together, then finish the song.

The Precentor would choose a familiar tune for each Psalm sung (some psalters and hymnals had music, while others did not) such as “Windsor,” “High Dutch,” “York,” and “Saint David’s.”

Judge Samuel Sewell was the Precentor at Boston’s Old South Church from 1694 to 1718, and reported numerous issues. Sometimes he’d accidentally change tunes mid-song, and sometimes the congregation would randomly go off in tunes of their own choice. Congregational singing became so chaotic in New England that, by the 1720s, it was evident that reform was needed.

The English clergyman Isaac Watts saw the need for reform and published his hymnal, which was often used in New England for family devotional singing, meetings during the week, and other strictly non-Sabbath uses. His hymns were first published in 1707, and his fresher, looser translation of the Psalms was published in 1719. This, and the rise of music education in New England helped to reform the chaos of New England congregational singing.”

“John Playford was one of Britain’s foremost music authorities in the 17th Century. Not only did he assemble hymnal-psalters, but he was the author and publisher of several works on dancing and music. He belonged to the Yeomanry of the Stationers’ Company, and is best-known for his book, “The English Dancing Master,” which was published under the Puritan Protectorate (1651) and goes to show that Puritans enjoyed a good dance and a good tune, in spite of their dour reputation. In his print shop, he published tracts, political pamphlets, religious works, secular works, and musical treatises. His “The Whole Booke of Psalmes” (1661) and “Psalms and Hymns” (1671) were widely used throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries. During the raucous and debaucherous period of the Restoration, Playford turned his pen and press to addressing the falling standards of music in Britain, and worked steadily for music education and reform.


Many of Playford’s tunes are still performed today. “The English Dancing Master” went through at least 17 editions and is still available today.

“This is one gorgeous little Psalms book …Old Hundred exactly as sung today, in 1697! Well, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. My own copy you made of this is very dear to me, a beautiful binding and marbled papers.  …I’m convinced that more times than not, the Playford collection you sent me was employed in manner to help teach the Psalms, through song and repetition, most especially to children. It is a method of sharing verse that is demonstrated today (or at least was, a very few years ago) in the Parish church of Colonial Williamsburg.”
Very Best Wishes,
Michael Thompson



This is a photo of John Robinson with his John Playford Psalms & Hymns book and his 1733 New Testament that I hand-bound for him.