Over the years I have accumulated a moderate collection of older Bible leaves and other early religious
works. Once in a while, after seeing a few of the items, someone will ask me about buying
older Bible pages. In a way, it is rather awe-inspiring to hold a piece of paper in your hand that was
printed 500 years ago — Columbus had only recently discovered the New World — About the only way to travel
was to walk, ride in a horse-drawn wagon, or trust your life to a tiny sailing ship — It would be 200 more
years before George Washington's
father was born. Yet the piece of paper in your hand survived all these years — right down to
When I tell these people that many early Bible pages can be purchased quite inexpensively, some folks
seem determined to rush right out and spend money. Hopefully I can slow them down long enough to
give them a lesson in common sense. Over the years I have dealt with a number of dealers, with
varying degrees of satisfaction. The old moral 'Let The Buyer Beware'
is as true in the antique book market as in any other business. I have come up with a few simple
rules I use when purchasing antique Bible material.
First, let me show you what happens if you are not careful. In this case — do as I say, not as I do.
I received a catalog from a company that
sells many different kinds of antiquities -- Egyptian artifacts, Sumerian clay tablets, Oriental Bhuddahs, (just to name a few) and old
Bible leaves. The catalog advertised two pages from a 1611 King James Bible.
One page was Scripture
text and the other had a picture of David in the Lions' Den.
These were advertised as
"quarto"-sized pages. That means they were smaller than the original, very-large format pages
that were 15 inches in length. I wasn't exactly sure that they printed a quarto-sized King James
Version in 1611, but I bought the pieces anyway.
Shown below are the pages that I received. You can click them for a closeup view.
Two very-nice looking pages from an obviously very old Bible.
I also received two 'Certificates of Authenticity' stating that these were pages from the 1611
printing of the King James Version. It would be easy, without a second glance, to file these away
with my other pieces and assume I had a genuine first-year printing of the King James Version. But
after doing some checking, I found out that things weren't quite as they seemed:
- After doing a little research, I found out that there
were no quarto-size King James Bibles printed in 1611. OK -- Shame on me for not doing the research earlier.
Oops! Strike One!
- I took a close look at the Scripture Text page. I looked
at how it compared to a text page
from the original 1611 King James Bible.
King James Bible
Because of the size difference in pages, the typeface was of a different size and style; but the
general quality was higher on my new page than pages known to come from 1611. The lines of text
were straighter; the details were finer; the typeface had an elegance that was not to be found
in the original 1611 Bible, where the bold letters on the page seem to jump right out at you. I have several
examples of English printing from the early 1600's. None of them look close to the appearance of my new
page. Strike Two!
- When I took a close look at the text itself, I knew my
suspicions had been correct. I found dates in the Marginal Notes at the top of each page —
Anno DOMINI 60 — or 60 A.D. These dates were based
on calculations by an Irish archbishop named James Ussher. He took the genealogies of the Old Testament, and worked
time backwards, calculating the dates of various Bible events. He eventually determined that the
earth was created "the night preceding Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC." He then used the same technique to date events from the New Testament.
These dates were typically placed in the margins of Bibles. Problem is — Archbishop Ussher didn't
publish these dates until 1701. That makes this page at least 90 years older than 1611.
Oops again! Strike Three!
... but there's more.
- I held each page and noticed the texture and
quality of the paper. The page that I knew came from 1611 had a ruggedness about it; this came from
the fact that it was made entirely from rags; no wood pulp was used at all. This made a high-quality,
yet substantial paper. The new page was on much thinner paper. It also was made to a very high
quality, but it was obviously not paper with a very high rag content. It's surface was much
smoother than the 1611 page. It seems to me highly doubtful that there could be such a great
difference in paper in two different editions within the same year.
... and going strong.
- Then I took a close look at the page with the Picture
of Daniel. A very nice engraving. (I hope for Daniel's sake it was summertime — he's not exactly dressed
for cold weather.) But when I came to the
bottom of the page, what did I see?
Lowell, Engraver & Copper-plate
Halifax?!? (as in Nova Scotia?!?) What happened to Robert Barker, Printer to the King's most
Excellent Majesty? (He was the man who actually did print the King James Version in 1611 -- not
some dude from the New World.) Not only aren't these pages from 1611, they're probably
not even from England!
That's it; lesson learned.
I tell you this story to emphasize a point:
Always buy from places that specialize in old
Bibles. The catalog from which I bought these pages had several thousand items: I
could have bought an Egyptian mummified bird; I could have bought coins from ancient Greece;
I could have bought oil lamps from the Holy Land. Of the
thousands of items I could have bought, only a dozen or so were Bible leaves. This place specialized
in antiquities, but not Biblical ones.
So did the man who sold me these pages know that they were "not as described?" Probably not. All he
knows is that he purchased them from his supplier and his supplier said they
were 1611 King James Bible leaves. He is not an expert in early Bibles, and so he must rely on
the description supplied by the person from whom he buys his merchandise. Now someone along the way deliberately
mis-represented these pages, but in this case, I doubt if it was the person selling these to me.
If, however, he had been a large dealer of older Bibles, he would have immediately noticed
that these pages could not possibly have been from a 1611 King James Bible. There is no substitute
for a dealer who knows a lot about his products.
You must be ESPECIALLY CAREFUL when buying from individuals or online Auctions.
A recent item on Ebay was described as
the Title Page from the Book of Matthew from a 1611 King James Bible. When I looked at the picture of this
item, I knew it wasn't from 1611. As I read the description I found this statement:
"This stunning original Bible Leaf is from one of the earliest printings of the 1611 Version King James Bible.
(printed before 1650 AD)". This means a) this is not from 1611 and the seller knows
it, and b) the seller really has no idea from which edition his Bible page came from. I can't help but
wonder how many of the 12 people who have bid on this item so far realize that it is not really from
a first-year King James Bible. (Obviously not many, because the current bid is about twice the value of the page.) Buying old Bible pages online can be a good way to find excellent material
at a bargain price. It is also a good way to get ripped off big time. Just because someone is selling
Bible pages does not necessarily mean that the person is knowledgeable or honest. DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF
TO BECOME A VICTIM.
As you start looking for sources of old Bible leaves, you'll find more-than-a-few places selling this material.
Some dealers sell their pages in just simple plastic bags for protection; other dealers provide
genuine wood-grain frames with velour mats and gold identification tags under non-glare glass.
The more extras that come with your Bible page,
the more you are over-paying.
The folks that sell you pages "in the raw" know that you can take their pages to any
framing shop and have them mounted exactly to your liking. (And my experience when buying pieces that were
already framed, has been that the frames were of exceptionally low quality.) Find a place that will
sell you a plain,
unadorned Bible page; you are then completely free to mount or display the piece however you feel is appropriate.
For some of my pages, I use a special holder that protects the page between two lucite sheets. This
allows viewing of both sides of the page. But perhaps you want a framed page for display in your
living room. Regardless of how you want to display it or use it, it is much more cost effective to
purchase just a plain Bible leaf without lots of frills.
As For Me:
So what to do with my 1611 KJV pages that aren't 1611 KJV pages? The dealer from whom I purchased
them is well-known and well-respected.
If I presented him with the information on this Web Page,
he would apologize, take back the two pages, and refund my money. It was just a simple mistake. All
legitimate dealers offer
a 100% guarantee of genuineness. If you ever have a question about whether a printed page is really
what it was sold as, do not
hesitate to talk to the person from whom you purchased it. Respectable dealers will handle
your concerns quickly and effectively.
As for me, I think I'll keep these pages. They make a good example of what not to do. Besides,
some day I may be able to identify which Bible these pages really did come from.