Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Most Printed Book of All Time

QUESTION: Last year I purchased an old Bible at a church festival. It’s one of those big Victorian pictorial family ones and seems to have all kinds of features besides just the Old and New Testaments.  As far as I can tell, the copyright date is 1881 from George V. Jones of Boston, Massachusetts. The presentation page says a woman gave the Bible to a man, most likely her husband, on Christmas Day in 1882. While the exterior shows some wear, the interior is in pristine condition. I also own two other Bibles from the second half of the 19th century. What can you tell me about this particular Bible and perhaps others like it?

ANSWER: From what I can tell about your Bible, you may possibly have a winner. In the world of Bibles, especially those from the later 19th century, only a few stand out.

George V. Jones of Boston did indeed print your Bible. This particular edition includes the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Concordance, Aprocypha, and Psalms. In all, it contains 2,500 illustrations. But what makes your Bible stand out is that it won a Diploma of Merit at the International Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia in December of 1881.

With Bibles, condition is all important. Large family Bibles from the 19th century, particularly study Bibles with illustrations, maps, and commentary are very popular with collectors. But what do old Bibles include? Surely, the Old and New Testaments, but there’s often much more. Bibles published for various Christian religions may include different features, such as a Bible Dictionary, a History of the Religious Denominations of the World, and detailed studies of the events and persons in the Bible’s text. Then there’s the endless variety of translations. For most Bible collectors, figuring out how to narrow the scope of their collection can be a challenge.

The King James version of the Bible, revised many times over the centuries, is probably the most famous one in the English language. But prior to its printing, at least 239 editions of the English Bible were in print. Since 1611, the number of English versions has exploded.

Gustave Doré was one of the most acclaimed and popular illustrators of the 19th century, and his illustrated Bible is a landmark in the field. He made more than 200 engravings, illustrating the events of the Bible with great detail. The first edition appeared in France in 1866, but publishers like George Jones reprinted his work throughout the following decades. This Bible features the engravings of Gustav Dore.

The elaborateness of the binding doesn’t affect a Bible’s price. A Bible’s value depends mostly on the completeness, condition, content, and size of its pages, not on the age of the piece of leather that it happens to be bound in at the time. Many collectors prefer a new leather binding, to one that’s worn and less attractive. They’re more interested in the quality of the pages of text.

Ninety percent of all Bibles, including this one, are standard "Quarto" size printings, measuring about 7 to 10 inches wide by 9 to 12 inches tall by 3 to 4 inches thick. Larger pulpit "Folio" size printings are ten times as rare, and therefore more expensive.

Old Bibles are always hardbound. Most have full leather covers and spine while some have leather spines and corners but fabric centers on the front and back covers. Armored or ornamented bindings with metalwork at the corners and center and clasps and latches that hold the book shut also adorn some of these Bibles. Most old family Bibles also have raised bands on their spine known as a “hubbed” spine.

Bible makers used two decorative techniques—blind stamping where an impression is stamped into the leather resulting in a design or "Gold-Stamped", where gold has been applied into the groove of the stamping, such as the words "Holy Bible" might be stamped in gold on the spine. The cover of this Bible has extensive gold stamping.

Older Bibles often include a “concordance,” also referred to as “The Table of Names and Table of Things.” This is essentially an alphabetical index to the scripture which helps readers locate a passage based on what words appear in that passage.

Some older Bibles offer a 36-page illustrated "Family Tree of Man" which traces every generation of the first 4,000 years of mankind, from Adam and Eve through Noah through David to Joseph, Mary, and Christ.

Gutenberg’s 42-line Bible is probably the most valuable printed book, with single leaves selling for $60,000 and up. Bibles are the most common book in the world, especially in the English language.

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