The title of this exhibit, God’s Sacred Word Amongst Us, comes from the dedication of the of the English translation of Christian scriptures that came to be known as the King James Bible. 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible’s first publication, and in commemoration of this event the Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections has mounted an exhibit of 30 historic Bibles.
The exhibit includes a 1611 first edition folio King James Bible. Other Bibles and historical documents from the English Reformation are also featured. These include a 1599 edition (probably pirated) of the Geneva Bible, the popular Calvinist-influenced translation that James I hated and that he hoped would be replaced by his newly commissioned version; a 1582 first edition of the Catholic Douay-Rheims New Testament; and a 1612 second edition King James Bible.
Another section of the exhibit features some of the first Bibles printed in North America. Highlights include a 1685 second edition of John Eliot’s Algonquin Bible, published in Cambridge, Massachusetts and translated into the language of the surrounding native peoples. The 1663 first edition of Eliot’s Bible was the first Bible printed in the western hemisphere. Also on view is a 1782 first edition of Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken’s Bible, the first English-language Bible to be published in America. Often called the “Bible of the Revolution,” its publication was commissioned by the newly formed Congress when the embargo of English goods cut off the supply of Bibles from London.
From Gutenberg onwards, printed Bibles have inspired artistic and technological innovation, and the final section of the exhibit features examples of this. Artist Hans Holbein’s Images of the Old Testament is an important work in the history of biblical illustration (also featured on the Special Collections website as August’s Rare Book of the Month). Examples of Renaissance printer/scholar Robert Estienne’s Latin psalter and Greek New Testament display advancements in typeface design and in scholarly editing inspired by the Reformation. John Baskerville’s 1763 folio Bible, Owen Jones’s 1862 chromolithographed Victoria Psalter, and the beautiful Dove’s Press Bible printed in the first decade of the 20th century all represent milestones in book design.