Lessons Learned
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 you.

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.

Example (Bad):
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.
Scripture Text Page

Scripture Text Page
Portrait of Daniel

Daniel in the Lions Den
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:
Rule #1:
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.

Rule #2:
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.