Rare Books - American Bibles

1663 - Eliot Indian Bible, first Bible printed in America

The first Bible to be printed in America, the first seal of the Massachusetts colony included the picture of a native American speaking the words "Come and help us" (from Acts 16:9). Sharing the Gospel with the natives was an early aim of the colony. John Eliot, pastor in Roxbury, Massachusetts, especially concentrated on learning Algonquian and developing a written language for the natives. In 1663, he printed the Indian Bible. The actual printing of the Bible took three years, printing one page a week.

This Bible, second edition of John Eliot’s Algonquin Indian Bible, the first Bible printed in America, read by the Indians in the Natick settlement. Partly printed by an Indian, this Bible was published by Samuel Green. Samuel Green had published some of colonial pastor John Bailey's sermons. In this Bible, Bailey's inscription was first, when he passed it on to his son, Joseph. Next, Harvard-educated Grindal Rawson, who attended college with famed colonial preacher Cotton Mather, owned the Bible. Proficient in Indian languages, Rawson soon worked among them and was appointed as a missionary to the Massachusetts Indians. As a translator, he flourished in his work nearly as much as John Eliot himself, to whom he was a successor.

1743 - Saur Bible, first European Bible printed in America

Christoph Saur (1693–1758) printed the first European language Bible in America, using Fraktur (a German style of black letter) type obtained from the Luther Foundry of Frankfurt, Germany.

It took three years to complete the printing and the edition was 1200 copies at a price of 18 shillings.
For the poor, Saur wrote, "we have no price."

1763 - Saur Bible, first Bible printed in America on American-made paper

Christoph Saur II (1721–84) continued his father’s work, and produced the second Saur Bible in 1763 in an edition of 2000 copies. It is the first Bible printed in America on American-made paper.

1776 - Saur Bible, first Bible printed in America with American type set, “The Gun Wad Bible”

Christoph Saur II (1721–84) The third and the last of the Saur Bibles to be printed was also known as the Gun-Wad Bible. It was the first Bible in America printed from American-made type. The type was manufactured by Justus Fox at the Saur Type Foundry in Germantown. The Gun-Wad Bible is considered a rare Bible because it was printed just prior to the battle of Germantown during the Revolution. Saur had originally produced 3000 copies of this edition, but the vast majority of them were destroyed by the occupying British soldiers who used the sheets for firewood and horse bedding, but primarily as cartridge paper or "gun-wad." According to contemporary accounts, all of the Bibles of this edition were destroyed, with the exception of 10 copies said to have been saved by Saur's daughter Catherine. While this number has never been confirmed, it is unquestionable that the surviving copies numbered as few.

1782 - Aitken Bible, The Bible of the American Revolution

Printed by Robert Aitken in Philadelphia in 1782, this was the First Bible in English printed in America. Robert Aitken (1734-1802), a Quaker, left Ireland from English persecution and settled in Pennsylvania. In this country, he supported the Revolution and determined to publish a Bible in English in violation of English laws. In 1781, he petitioned Congress for approval and financial aid. Congress recommended the publication of an edition of 30,000 Bibles, at a cost of ten thousand dollars.


1782 Isaac Collins BIBLE An Early New Testament,

Printed in Trenton during the Revolution, one of only two surviving .
The first New Testament printed in the coonies was a Cambridge 1661 edition, but subsequently, the crown strictly prohibited the printing of Bibles in the colonies; for the next century colonists were forced to purchase Bibles imported from the mother country. But with the Revolution, enterprising colonial printers were not slow to seize the opportunity.

Aitken of Philadelphia printed editions of the New Testament in 1777, 1778, and 1781. The first New Testament issued in New Jersey was a 1779 Trenton edition also from Isaac Collins' press (Evans 43605).Hills also lists a 1780 printing by Collins (based on an unconfirmed reference in Nelson's Check-List of the Issues of the Press in New Jersey). No copy has been located. Thus, the present is probably the second New Testament with a New Jersey imprint.

Trenton, the site of one of Washington's key early victories, remained in American hands during the remainder of the war. This copy is larger than the single copy recorded by Hills at Yale. Not in Evans, Bristol, OCLC. Hills 13; Nelson a1788.

1790 - Matthew Carey Bible, first American edition of the Douay translation of the Vulgate Bible

The first American edition of the Douay translation of the Vulgate Bible.

The Vulgate was the 4th century Latin translation of the Bible made by St. Jerome and used throughout the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church preferred the Vulgate, and later vernacular translations were made from it. The Douay translation of the Vulgate was made at the English College in Douai, France. The New Testament was first published in 1582; the Old Testament in 1609. The Douay Bible is to the English-speaking Catholics what the King James Bible is to the Protestants. Carey originally advertised this Bible would appear in 48 weekly numbers. Subscribers would have the Bible personally bound once all issues were collected.

1791 - John Wesley New Testament Bible, first American edition, explanatory notes

Methodist founder John Wesley studied the Greek and made several thousand changes to the Authorized King James Version of the Bible. These changes, along with notes of explanation, were published in a three volume set, of which this is the third volume. The set was published in Philadelphia in 1791, and is known as the Wesley version. Reprints of the Wesley version continued throughout the years and a number of his changes were reflected in two of the more modern English Bible translations, according to Hill, noted scholar of historic Bibles.

1791 - Isaac Collins Bible, first Bible printed in New Jersey, Bible of Colonial America

First family Bible printed in America

Carrying the honor of being the first family Bible printed in America and the first Bible printed in New Jersey, this Bible is a sacred and distinguished treasure in our American history. Published by Isaac Collins, this Bible was long heralded as the measure of correctness in Biblical text. The Bible was even read through eleven times by Collins' children to make certain that it had no mistakes. In the end, the two mistakes found were less significant than a single letter.

This Bible, which is fairly rare today, was published by Collins following his earlier production of a New Testament in 1779. Though he required only three thousand requests in 1789 for his work of the Bible in order to print it, he eventually printed five thousand copies.
Collins was a Quaker who enjoyed a prominent reputation as a printer, due in large measure to his printing of the Bible. Though born in Delaware, Collins moved several times and was the printer for the State of New Jersey while living in the city of Trenton.

1791 - Isaiah Thomas Bible, first Family Bible Printed in America: First English Bible printed in New England:

This Bible was printed by Isaiah Thomas, who pioneered the work of illustrated Bibles in America. His Biblical works were completed in 1791, the same year as Isaiah Collins' famous work. One of these was a large, folio edition and the other was a quarto. This expense could, according to Thomas, be deferred in part through barter rather than actual payment. Because Thomas offered his readers a choice in whether to include the illustrations, many of the few copies still surviving today do not contain the illustrations.

Thomas was a famous American printer and patriot. During the War of Independence, the Patriot cause was clearly promoted through Thomas' newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy. Though Thomas was very patriotic, he was forced to move his printing operations from Boston to Worcester, Massachusetts because of the war.

1792 - John Brown Bible: first Bible printed in New York, Self-Interpreting Bible:

This is the earliest edition of the Bible printed in New York. It was published by subscription, George Washington being the first subscriber, and was printed in forty parts over a period of two years.

John Brown (1722-1787) was a Scottish weaver who became a Presbyterian minister. Although self-educated, he prepared an annotated Bible, Bible dictionary and concordance, and a metrical version of the Psalms.

His Self-Interpreting Bible appeared first in 1778 in Edinburgh and was "many times reprinted in Scotland and in America."

1794 - Childrens Bible, first Bible for children printed in America

This charming little book presents Biblical passages as rebuses. A rebus substitutes visual representations in the place of words in sentences or verses, thus making a puzzle. Eighteenth-century printers composed woodcuts within lines of handset type to produce this form of popular entertainment and edification. Pictographic Bibles first appeared in London and were quickly copied in America for young readers as an inducement to religious instruction. There were two other editions of hieroglyphic Bibles printed in the United States later in the eighteenth century. The format endured, and many more editions were published in the early nineteenth century.

1800 - First Greek New Testament printed in America:

Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, Junior, 1800
The son of Isaiah Thomas was the publisher of the first New Testament in Greek published in America. Caleb Alexander, the editor, drew upon various editions, especially the Elzevir of 1678. In the same year, 1800, Thomas published a Greek grammar, a duodecimo of 224 pages, that was advertised as "recommended by the University at Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be used by those who are intended for that seminary." Several editions of the Greek New Testament, issued by various publishers, followed in the nineteenth century.

1806 - Matthew Carey Bible

Matthew Carey (1760-1839) was a journalist in his native Ireland who at one point had to seek temporary refuge in France where he was befriended by Benjamin Franklin and the Marquis de Lafayette. Approximately two years later, he returned to Ireland and continued his journalistic career, but his attacks on the English government brought him a jail sentence of one month. After his release in 1784, at the age of 24, and still facing a libel suit, he escaped to America in disguise. With the aid of Lafayette, then in America, he established himself as a printer and publisher in Philadelphia. Carey's firm became one of the largest bookselling and printing firms and the largest and most important Bible printing house in the country. He was the first president of the American Company of booksellers, organized in 1801 in New York.

1808 - Charles Thompson Bible, first Bible printed by a woman in America

This Bible is the English translation of the learned Charles Thomson, who had previously served from 1774-1789 as a secretary to the United States Congress. Following numerous years of work on his translation from the Greek, this four volume set was finally published in 1808 by Jane Aitken. Aitken was the first woman in America to print a Bible, and the daughter of Robert Aitken. Robert Aitken was the famous printer of the Aitken Bible, the first English Bible printed in America, also called “The Bible of the Revolution.”

1812 - Sterotyped Bible, first Sterotyped Bible printed in America

The first stereotyped Bible printed in the United States. The plates were imported from England by the Philadelphia Bible Society. The British and Foreign Bible Society donated 500 pounds toward the cost and the United State government admitted the plates free of duty. They were received in October of 1812 and immediately turned over to the printer, William Fry of Philadelphia. At a time when the United States and Britain were at war and all trade between the countries had been cut off, the Christians of both countries cooperated to spread the Scriptures. The U.S. government permitted the free receipt of the British Bible plates, in spite of an official embargo on all British imports. Stereotype printing greatly increased the availability of Bibles. Printing was no longer done from moveable type, but the type was used to create a mold from which a copy was formed, and the printing was done off the copy. This meant that later printings did not require the re-setting of type.

1814 - First Hebrew Bible printed in America

Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1814
The first book printed in the Hebrew language in America was an edition of the Psalms, edited by Professor Francis Hare, issued by the press of Harvard College in 1809. In 1810 a prospectus with sample pages for an octavo Hebrew Bible was distributed by Mills Day of New Haven, Connecticut, but the project failed. The first Hebrew Bible to be published in America was that of Thomas Dobson, printed by William Fry in Philadelphia.

1815 - Walpole Bible, first Bible printed in New Hampshire:

This Walpole Bible, the first copy of the Scriptures to be printed in New Hampshire, is so named for the city of its publication: Walpole, New Hampshire. It was published by Anson Whipple and included tables and reference items as well as the Apocryphal books. Isaiah Thomas, famous printer and American patriot of earlier decades, was Whipple's father-in-law, according to O'Callaghan, known book scholar.

1815 - First French Bible printed in America:

Le Nouveau Testament ET le Vieux

The first printing of the New Testament in French in America was an edition of the Vulgate in 1810, from the firm of J.T. Buckingham in Boston. The first complete Bible in French was printed by James Seymour in 1815 for the New York Bible Society. The edition was printed from sterotype plates from the London edition of 1807, a reprinting of the Paris edition of 1805 done for the British and Foreign Bible Society.

1816 - First Bible to have American Bible Society imprints

A very scarce early American Bible, this Biblical treasure was created with the stereotype method, done by E. & J. White of New York. With its tiny print, this Bible includes the American Bible Society name on its title pages. The American Bible Society, with Elias Boudinot as president, had been formed that very same year, 1816. The Society continued to actively distribute the Word of God for many years and still exists today.

1822 - John Brown Bible, the largest Bible ever printed in America

One hundred sixty-two separately printed portions come together to form this largest Bible printed in America. This Bible includes extensive study materials such as notes by Reverend John Brown, tables, and a map. A number of beautiful engravings accentuate the text. This is a later edition of the first Bible printed in New York, which was also sold by subscription in 1792, and to which George Washington was the first subscriber.

1822 - First American edition Columbian Family and Pulpit Bible printed in America

This Bible, like others at the time, was printed by subscription. Printers collected names of those who promised to purchase the Bibles in order to know how many people were interested before they made the effort to print thousands of copies. With thirty-six engravings, this Bible was issued in both one volume and two, and was one of the largest American family and pulpit Bibles of its time.

1833 - Noah Webster Bible

This Webster Bible is a presentation Bible given as a gift personally by Noah Webster to his grandson, William H. Goodrich.

"In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people."

Noah Webster (1758-1843) is undoubtedly known unto this day for his great work in compiling the Webster’s Dictionary and numerous text books. However, his Bible, considered to be just as accurate of works, did not catch on. The King James Bible was just too much competition.

1842 - Pre Braille Bible, first Pre Braille Bible printed in America

Pre-Braille was used by hymn writer Fanny Crosby in her reading and teaching at the New York Institute for the Blind. Pre-Braille was created with Roman type in a raised letter system, called the "Line Letter" system, developed by Samuel Gridley Howe, M.D., the director of the Perkins Institution for the Education of the Blind in Boston. In 1835, he purchased type and a press to attempt a printing of the Scriptures for the blind. The type was imprinted inkless from the rear of the sheet and die-stamped into dampened paper into a receptive mould. This created right reading, raised letters on the surface of the paper when dried. The readers then felt their way over the letters in order to read the text. The Line Letter (dot) system was not superceded by the Braille system until the end of the nineteenth century.

1846 - The most lavishly illustrated American Bible

New York: Harper & Brothers

Although completed in 1846, the date recorded on the title page, publication was begun in 1843 when the first of fifty-four parts was issued. The price for each number was twenty-five cents. The expense for manufacture and for artists engaged on this ambitious project over a period of six years came to $20,000.00, making this one of the most costly Bibles produced in the nineteenth century. The fine line drawings of J. G. Chapman are reproduced with utmost fidelity. The references are in a central column. The double columns of text are interspersed with small vignettes and initial letters. This was a remarkable production for its time, executed with great care throughout, and holds an important place in American printing history.

1856 - Cherokee Indian Bible

Park Hill: Mission Press, 1856
The Cherokees are the second largest group of Indians in the United States, after the Navajos. They occupied an area from North Carolina to Georgia, but after 1827 they were forcibly removed to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. Cherokee is the only American Indian language with a syllabary devised by one of its own people. Its inventor was Sequoya, a Tennessee Cherokee, in whose honor the species of redwood tree is named. He devised eighty-six symbols for sounds in the Cherokee language. This new written language was completed in 1825, after twelve years' labor. A special type font was cast for the syllabic characters. Parts of the New Testament were printed as early as 1829, although the complete New Testament was not published until 1860. Two books of the Old Testament were printed. Exodus in 1853 and Genesis in 1856. The Translators were S. A. Worcester and S. Foreman.

1860 - USS Reliance Civil War Battleship Bible

Built in 1860, the USS Reliance began its major role as a Union gunboat in the first year of the United States Civil War. Guarding the Potomac River area, the ship was desired by the Confederate forces. Under Lt. John Taylor Wood, the Confederates worked at night, cautiously waiting for the right moment to attack the ship. During their surprise attack on August 12, 1863, the Confederates also seized nearby ship USS Satellite. A short time later, fearing that Union ground forces would take back the ships on their way through the area, the Confederates sent the USS Reliance and the USS Satellite to their demise.

1861 - Soldier's Bible

The Soldier’s Pocket Bible was issued in 1861 at the very beginning of the American Civil War. It was an exact reproduction of one issued in 1643 during the English Civil War. The quote on the title page, “Trust in the Lord and keep your powder dry,” was Oliver Cromwell’s famous battle cry to his troops. The little book consists of Bible passages which might be of most help to a soldier.

1875 - Ojibwa Bible

The Ojibwa, or Chippewa, made up one of the largest tribes of North American Indians. In the mid-eighteenth century, they occupied a large area from what is now North Dakota to the east shore of Lake Huron. The Gospels of Mark and John were printed in 1831, and the entire New Testament appeared in 1833, translated by Edwin Hames and John Tanner, missionaries who had worked with the Ojibwa for thirty years.

1876 - Holy Bible, first Bible translated by a woman

The first woman to translate the entire Bible was Julia Evelina Smith. She was an exponent of women’s suffrage, refusing to pay taxes, in particular those levied on her herd of Jersey cattle. The translation is a curious one. Her scheme was to replace Hebrew, Greek, or Latin words with their English equivalents, which resulted in strange syntax and distortions of meaning. In her preface she wrote: “Over twenty years ago, when I had four sisters, a friend met with us weekly to search the Scriptures, we being desirous to learn the exact meaning of every Greek and Hebrew word, from which King James’s forty-seven translators had taken their version of the Bible. We saw by the margin that the text had not been given literally, and it was the literal meaning we were seeking… I continued my labors and wrote out the Bible five times, twice from the Greek, twice from the Hebrew, and once from the Latin…It may be thought by the public in general that I have great confidence in myself, in not conferring with the learned in so great a work; but…as I have defined it word for word, I do not see how anybody can know more about it than I do.” The edition was published at the expense of Miss Smith and was apparently not reprinted. It appeared in 1876, the year of the United States Centennial, purposely to remind the world that women were not yet beneficiaries of freedoms accorded men.

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