On collecting: Bibles

As you may already know, the Bible was the most significant book in the Western world. It has influenced culture, literature, law and history to a tremendous degree. The Influence of the Bible grew with its wide distribution. As expected, the result was that the Bible could be found anywhere.  On the other hand, to find a valuable and rare copy of the Bible you need to posses real knowledge.

New Testament in Greek language printed in Leipzig 1766.

Bible can be found among the most valuable and least expensive antique books. For example, Guttenberg’s 42-line Bible is probably the most valuable printed book, with single leaves selling for a minimum of $60,000. On the other hand, you can find free copies of Bible in different locations such as churches and even download them from various websites. Therefore, Bible is certainly the most common book in the western world, especially among those written in English. As a book collector, you will probably encounter more Bibles than any other title.

Bibles come in all shapes, sizes, editions, bindings, years of printing, languages but also prices. This for example is a beautiful pocket New Testament in German from 1916.

As it is with all types of book collecting, condition of the book is one of the most important criteria. Family bibles from 19th century which often contain illustrations and maps are very popular, but provided that they are in an excellent condition. Some Bibles were owned by historical figures who left their ex libris or maybe their signature as a proof of ownership- this too can be a factor.

Collectors are also interested in the structure of a Bible. Jewish Bibles differ from those used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants. Then there is the nearly endless variety of translations. If you want to be a Bible collector, figuring out how to narrow the scope of your collection could be a difficult task.

If you are an English speaking collector, there are four popular paths from which you can choose:

1) Old Bibles

There is a general opinion that everything printed 75 years before the current date is considered an antique. But when it comes to the Bible, situation is somewhat different. Some Bible collectors by the term old consider every Bible printed before the King James Bible, which appeared in 1611. Old Bibles in German and Latin are usually valued at $750 and up, while the early editions in English can reach way higher numbers.

2) The first Bible printed in a certain location

Collectors often search Bibles that are printed for the first time in countries, states, provinces or cities. Since the Bible is a hard to print book, its parts appeared first (such as Genesis, the Psalms and Gospels). After these portions New Testament would follow and then the complete text.

The first Bible in Syllabic script.

3) Bibles in foreign languages

As you may already know, the original text of the Bible was written in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. Since very few can read all three languages, most Bibles are translated to various languages. There are 400 recorded translations of Old and New Testament. If you chose this path, you could spend a lot of time to track down a Bible in each single language

4) Bible Versions

The most famous and influential version of the Bible is King James version, which has been revised many times over the centuries. However, nine major versions were printed before KJV in 1611. After 1611 different versions of the Bible in English had been produced and some collectors are claiming that there are over two thousands English versions of this book.

Collector’s literature

If you are planning to start collecting bibles, you will need the adequate literature. A primary and most essential tool is Christopher Hamal’s The Book: A History of the Bible, beautifully illustrated survey which follows the evolution of this book from the earliest manuscripts to the 20th century.

As for bibliographies, most widely used is Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture which covers Bibles printed in 600 languages. If you are interested in the Bible in English look for Arthur Sumner Herbert’s 1968 revision. If you are an American collector, you can rely on The English Bible in America: A Bibliography of Editions of the Bible and the New Testament Published in America, 1777–1957, by Margaret Thorndike Hills.

Miloš Stanković
Милош Станковић


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