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Rare Bibles – Collecting tips

As you may already know, the Bible was the most significant book in the Western world. It has greatly influenced culture, literature, law and history. 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 Bibles you need to posses real knowledge.

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New Testament in Greek language printed in Leipzig 1766.

 

Rarity

You can find Bible to be among the most valuable and least expensive antique books. For example, Gutenberg’s Bible is probably the most valuable printed book. One single leaf is selling for a minimum of $60,000. On the other hand, you can find free copies of Bible in churches or 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 book.

Condition

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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. Rare bibles from 19th century containing illustrations and maps are very popular, but only those in excellent condition. Many important people in history left their ex libris or their signature as a proof of ownership. This too can be an important factor for collecting rare bibles.

Structure

Structure of the Bible is also interesting to collectors. 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. So, if you want to be a Bible collector, figuring out how to narrow the scope of your collection could be a difficult task.

Four popular types of Bibles

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

1) Old Bibles

We usually say that everything printed 75 years before the current date is considered an antique. But when it comes to the Bible, situation can be different. Some Bible collectors by the term old consider every Bible printed before the King James Bible, which appeared in 1611.  Experts value Old Bibles in German and Latin 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 which 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.

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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. You can assume that there are very few people who can read in all three languages. So, most Bibles are translated to various languages. Historians recorded 400 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. Book represents an illustrated survey following the evolution of Bible from the earliest manuscripts to the 20th century.

As for bibliographies, you can use  Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture. This bibliography covers Bibles printed in 600 languages. If Bible in English is your primary focus, look for Arthur Sumner Herbert’s 1968 revision. If you are an American collector, you can rely on The English Bible in America, by Margaret Thorndike Hills.

Images taken from our store.

Miloš Stanković

Miloš Stanković (*1989) holds MA degree in Serbian literature and language from the University of Belgrade. Main field of his interest are Serbian antique books printed from 15th to 18th century. Besides his native tongue, he is fluent in English and French language.

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