Discover Vintage America - MARCH 2017
Yearly reflections, advice and a contest!
Q: I have received a number of questions about Bibles. Old Bibles, family Bibles, volumes of Bibles, big and little Bibles, fully illustrated Bibles, just about any Bible that one can imagine. So I am going to take this opportunity to address the issue of Bibles and their monetary value.
A: The Bible is considered to be the best-selling "book" of all times with as many as six billion sold, though no date range was given on this figure. This tells us that the vast majority of Bibles have very little monetary resell value. Some people are fortunate to have a family Bible that has been handed down through many generations these are wonderful and tell the story of a family.
There are collectors of the large, old family Bibles. But if it has been handed down through the years in your family, do you really want to sell it for $50-$75? This is one book that needs to continue its journey within the family.
The age of any book does not mean that it worth a lot of money. In the early years books were handwritten primarily by monks. In the 13th century wood-block printing was being used in China to print paper money and playing cards. By the middle of the 15th century several print masters were working on techniques of printing with movable metal type.
The first man to prove the practicability of movable metal type was Johannes Gutenberg. He printed 200 copies of the two-volume Gutenberg Bible on vellum. These Bibles were sold at a book fair in 1455 and were extraordinarily beautiful and equally expensive, costing the equivalent of three years pay for the average worker at the time.
Roughly 50 of the original Gutenberg Bibles are known to exist today.
From Gutenberg onward, the race was on to perfect the printing process, reduce the cost and get printed books into the hands of everyone. Printing also reduced the number of errors that existed with handwritten books. The first printing press in America arrived from Europe around 1640 and was set up at Harvard University. The advent of the printing press allowed for the mass printing of the written word, Bibles being at the head of the list.
There are a few exceptions to the rule of Bibles and value. I am not going to go in to the history of the Bible and the numerous changes going back to 1400 B.C. when the tablets and scrolls were found.
Bibles printed in the 1600s in very good condition with no missing pages and good covers can sell for several thousand dollars.
1700s - Bibles printed in Europe in the 1700s have little resale value but those printed in America can be worth several hundred dollars if in very good condition.
By the 1800s, Bibles had been mass-produced and the majority of Bibles printed in the 19th century are valued at around $30. The exceptions to this rule are below and have values from $3,000 - $6,000 depending upon condition.
• An 1833 Noah Webster Bible
• An 1808 Jane Aitken Four-Volume Bible
• An 1800 Giant Macklin Bible Seven-Volume Set
• An 1843-1846 Harper Brothers N.Y. Illuminated Bible
• An 1841 English Hexapla Parallel New Testament
I am not an advocate of tearing pages from a book or even from an old magazine for that matter, but there are a few old Bibles that might be in less than desirable condition and you will find pages (leaves) from these for sale. For example, the earliest printings of the original King James Bible were printed between 1614 and 1649 in England. A leaf or page from this Bible is valued at around $50. These are printed on rag linen, which holds up over time much better than paper made of wood pulp.
The Geneva Bible of the Pilgrims and Puritans, printed between the 1560s and 1644, is quoted many times in Shakespeare's plays. It is the first Bible brought to America by those fleeing persecution. John Calvin, John Knox and other reformers translated it. One leaf in very good condition can bring $60.
The Collins Bible of Colonial America written in 1791 was the first family Bible. There were only 5,000 printed in the first run and was a favorite among the early Americans. There are only about 25 of these Bibles known to exist today. One leaf can fetch $200 - $500. It was printed on wood pulp paper as rag linen was hard to come by in America but the paper is much thicker than what we see today.
The 1537 Matthew-Tyndale Bible was the first English Bible directly translated from Greek and Latin and the oldest printed English scripture available. One leaf from this wonderful Bible sells for around $500 and up.
I think that I have covered the Bible questions. Please be sure to visit the website listed below if you are interested in a more thorough timeline and description of the Bibles mentioned.
My reference for this article and a very informative website - www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history
Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.
Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.