Adventures of a Bible Collector

By Donald Brake
(Bible Collectors’ World – Sept./Dec. 1985)

It was about 1:00 a.m. when I phoned a Bible dealer in London to inquire about a 1778 Bishop’s Bible he had for sale. He certainly got my attention when he quoted his price. Using as much self-control as possible I said, “Send it to me.” (Any Bishop’s Bible is worth having even with such a late date.) As I was saying goodbye I was reaching for Herbert to check the date. I soon discovered there was no mention of a 1778 Bishop’s Bible in Herbert. I then began to second guess our conversation. Did he say, “1578?” I already had a 1574 and a 1578 (although imperfect) Bishop’s so if it was a 1578, then I really wanted it. The thought haunted me since I was sure he had said “1778.” I finally resigned myself simply to wait until it came BUT I was excited!!!

Finally, after what seemed weeks, it arrived. My first look was at the date--sure enough a 1778. The label on the spine said “Bishop’s Bible.” Again, to Herbert I went. Nothing! I began to read the text and compare it with my other translations. To my utter surprise I discovered it was a Geneva Bible. Was I disappointed? Not at all. My excitement heightened. All Bible collectors know that no Geneva Bible was printed after 1644. The well-known author F.F. Bruce writes, “The Soldier’s Pocket Bible of 1643 for the use of Oliver Cromwell’s Army, consisted of a selection of extracts from the Geneva Bible. The following year (1644) saw the printing of the last edition of the Geneva Bible.” (The English Bible, p. 92) The Cambridge History of the Bible also reads, “In one form or another, the Geneva Bible was to have a long history, running to at least 140 editions…until the last of 1644.” (Vol. 3. p. 159) How could this be a Geneva Bible? I wrote to several Bible collectors to see if I could find some information. It apparently is not found in the Library of Congress or in the American Bible Society--some even questioned the accuracy of my findings.

How would a 1778 Geneva Bible be mistaken for a Bishop’s Bible--especially in light of the massive notes in a Geneva?

There are a couple of reasons for the mistake. In the first place, this edition has Archbishop Parker’s preface which occurs in most Bishop’s Bibles. Second, the reading of Genesis 3:7 is not the typical reading of a Geneva. This edition reads “aprons” instead of “breeches.”

Further investigation revealed an interesting clue. Herbert No. 1246 has a note that reads, “Gen. 3:7 aprons. This and a similar reprint of 1778 are the only editions of the Geneva version in which the rendering breeches does not occur.” The American Bible Society does possess a 1776 edition but lacks all before Gen. 2:9. They did not know who published it.

The mystery was solved, and I realized I had a very important Geneva edition. It can no longer be said the last edition of the Geneva Bible was 1644. It is a large folio, published by Alexander Hogg in London in 1778. Its condition is superb with original reversed calf. Expertly rebacked with label reading “Bishop’s Bible.” It also contains a list of subscribers at the end with some noteable names.

Collecting Bibles is more than fondling antiquity or investing in a commodity--it is an exciting adventure. The very next Bible may be a real treasure--who can resist a purchase?