America’s Only Folio Catholic Bible

by Sidney Ohlhausen
(Bible Editions & Versions, October-December, 2002)

Large “folio” editions of the Bible (generally measuring 15 to 18 inches tall) were popular during the early years of printing. In England, Henry VIII’s “Great Bible” of 1539 and the original Authorized Version of 1611 are prominent examples. Our own country was highly productive in this category during its early years. By 1825, at least fourteen folio Bibles in English were published with American imprints.’ Among these was a remarkable edition of the Catholic Douay Version published by Eugene Cummiskey of Philadelphia.

Mathew Carey, with his quarto Douay editions of 1790 and 1805, had pioneered American Catholic Bible publishing. However, fellow Philadelphian and Irish immigrant Eugene Cummiskey (1792?-1860) 2brought it to maturity.3 Cummiskey published the first Ameri­can Catholic Bible produced by the recently invented stereotype process, an octavo edition in 1824 that was frequently reprinted over the next 30 years. In 1825, he published a seminal quarto edition that would go through several printings by a series of publishers well into the 1870’s.

Also in 1825, Cummiskey published what Parsons exuberantly called, “… the greatest edition of the Bible this country has ever seen. Certainly the most magnificent American Catholic Bible ever produced, it is “… a majestic volume, [18] inches high, in large type, the only Catholic folio Bible we have ever had in this country.”4 That statement written over 60 years ago remains true, as no English language Catholic version of the Bible on the scale of Cummiskey’s folio has been produced in America even to this day.5

Textually, this Bible is a reprint of Thomas Haydock’s folio edition of the Douay Version, first published in Manchester, England, between the years 1811-1814. In preparing this article, the author compared the Haydock and Cummiskey edi­tions. This revealed that, out of the 147 errors, omissions and variations in American Douay editions listed by 0’Callaghan,6 Cummiskey copied Haydock’s rendering exactly in all cases ex­cept one. This is in Gen. 10:13, where Cummiskey uses the spell­ing “Nepthuim,” rather than “Nephtuim.” The verb “shew” is changed to “show” in some, but not all places throughout the text.

Cummiskey includes the exten­sive commentary for which the Haydock edition was especially noted. This, appearing at the bot­tom of each page, was compiled from patristic writings and works of later Catholic theologians, and includes some original commen­tary. The Old Testament commen­tary was compiled by Thomas Haydock’s brother, George Leo; that of the New Testament by their former colleague from the En­glish College at Douay, Benedict Rayment and others.

Cummiskey’s edition ironically more closely resembles in many ways a competitor of Haydock’s British edition, a folio Douay Bible published between the years 1816-1817 by Nuttall, Fisher, &

Co. of Liverpool.Cummiskey imported from England many of the handsome full page engraved illustrations, which Nuttall, Fisher & Co. had used in their Liverpool Douay edition as well as in an edition of the Authorized Version it was concurrently publishing.9 Cummiskey also used regular type as in the Liverpool edition rather than boldface as Haydock had used. One impressive fea­ture which Cummiskey’s edition shares 3½ ft. fold out table titled “Theological History in Miniature.”

The extraordinarily large issue of 1,000 copies was marketed first by subscription sales in weekly numbers between the years 1823-1826 at a cost of 25 cents per num­ber. Later, bound editions were sold for the relatively high price of $35.10 Copies were often in higher quality ornate bindings, in contrast to the plain, cheaper bindings usually found on the original Carey edi­tions as well as Cummiskey’s own octavo and quarto editions. The Woodstock ex­emplar pictured in this article is in a stan­dard trade binding. The date 1827, stamped on the spine of that copy, is curi­ous. Hills cites a copy with the spine dated 1826. The title page on all copies is dated 1825. The bindings of some copies were apparently dated when bound or sold.

Even with all its attractive features, Cummiskey’s folio was a commercial failure.” A list, bound at the beginning of the volume, indicates 475 subscribers mostly in the Northeast, with a large group from Charleston, S.C. It is unclear why Cummiskey proceeded to print 1,000 copies on speculation. The success of his octavo and quarto editions may have caused him to overestimate the capacity of America’s then relatively small Catholic population to warrant such an expensive edition. As late as 1870, after Cummiskey’s death, his company was still advertising unsold copies.’2

Despite the large number printed, Cummiskey’s folio is scarce today. Parsons states that copies were “…apparently broken up and the paper used for waste.”’The author has found it to be considerably scarcer than the original British folio edition of 1811-1814, and quarto editions of the Haydock Bible published in England and America later in 19th century. The lack of commercial success and the scarcity of copies have kept Cummiskey’s folio in relative obscurity. Virtually unknown in England, it has been overlooked in many compilations of the Haydock series of Bibles.’4 However, this impressive Bible should be considered a major accomplishment and a significant milestone in early American Catholic publishing history. It should rank very near Carey’s edition of 1790 in historical interest among early American Catholic editions of the Bible.



Six preliminary leaves: frontispiece depicting Rabbi sacrificing a lamb with Crucifixion scene in background; general title dated 1825, verso blank; next leaf unnumbered with recto containing Advertisement, Approbations of former Douay Versions, verso with Admonition & Decree of Council of Trent; fourth leaf with recto numbered vii containing Sketch of Principal Epochs and Approbation of Bishop Conwell of the current edition and verso (unnumbered) containing first page of Preface; fifth leaf continues Preface with recto repeating no.vii and verso numbered viii; sixth leaf with recto numbered ix containing List of Principal Commentators and verso unnumbered with Names and Order of Books.


Text: Volume I, Genesis through Ecclesiastes, beginning on unnumbered page 13 and continuing through page 812; Volume II, (no title page), text containing Canticles through II Machabees, beginning on unnumbered page 3 and continuing through page 409 (verso blank); two unnumbered leaves containing Historical & Chronological Index to the Old Testament; one Family Record Leaf; frontispiece to New Testament depicting Christ giving keys to Peter; New Testament title dated 1825 with verso blank; five leaves beginning with unnumbered page iii and continuing though page xii containing “General Preface, &c” to New Testament; text containing Matthew through Apocalypse, beginning on unnumbered page 1 and continuing through page 367, with verso including Directions to Binder for the placing of plates (12 for Old Testament and 8 for the New) and Eugene Cummiskey’s Catalogue of Catholic Books.


Seven terminal leaves: all unnumbered: the first containing an Historical and Chronological Index to New Testament; the following two leaves containing a Table of References; the next leaf containing a Table of Epistles and Gospels; a 3 ½ foot fold-out leaf containing History in Miniature; and two leaves containing a List of 475 Subscribers (verso of final leaf blank).


Initials: Volume I from A through 9U. Initials 9K and 9U have only one leaf each. Volume II from B through 5M in the Old Testament (with initial 4P repeated in place of 4Q) and B through SE in the New Testament


Format: Demy folio, bound in one or two parts; 16 point type in two columns with running annotations at the base of page; typeface dimensions: 358 x 198 mm.



1. Hills, Margaret T., The English Bible in America, American Bible Society & The New York Public Library New York, 1961. See items no.16 (I788), 29 (1791), 37 (1792), 53 (1796), 62 (1798), 66 (1799), 76 (1801), 131 (1806), 226 (1813?), 394 (1820), 432 (1822), 433 (1822), 434 (1822), & 518 (1825).

2. Parsons, Wilfred, “Early Catholic Publishers of Philadelphia,” The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. XXIV, No.2, July, 1938, p. 150.

3. Ohlhausen, Sidney K., “Douay-Rheims, A Story of Faith,” Vol. 8, No.4, May-June, 1999, p. 23.

4. Parsons, op cit., p 151.

5. An advertisement in the June 24, 1825 issue of The Truth Teller, a weekly Catholic tabloid published in New York, contains an advertisement by publisher James Cummingham for a “medium” folio edition of a Catholic Bible containing “about 1840 pages” to begin publication “as soon as a sufficient number of subscribers” was obtained. The author has been able to learn nothing else about this proposed edition. One other folio Catholic Bible, begun in 1850 in New York by Tallis, Willoughby & Co., was stopped after publication of six numbers (Hills #1415). Catholic editions published by O’Shea, circa 1868 (Pope, Hugh, English Versions of the Bible, B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis & London, 1952, p. 732), Sadlier circa 1875 (Hills #1909) and by P. F Collier in 1886 (Hills #2003) are sometimes reckoned as folios since their size is somewhat larger then the standard “Family Bible” quarto. However, they are actually “Imperial” quartos printed on larger sheets, but still double-folded and retaining the standard “squarish” shape of a quarto.

6. O’Callaghan, F. B., A List of Editions of the Holy Scriptures and Portions Thereof Printed in America Previous to 1860, Mansell & Rowland, Albany, 1861. See table at the end of the Introduction.

7. Cotton, Henry, Rhemes and Doway, Oxford, 1855, pp. 86-88. George Leo Haydock (1774-1849) is frequently credited with annotations to the entire Bible, as no other contributors are mentioned in any of the numerous editions in the Haydock series. For a complete collation of this remarkable series that continued in print for over 100 years, see article by the present author, “The Last Haydock Bible, Recusant History, Vol. 22, No. 4, October, 1995, pp. 529-530.

8. Dates are estimated by Cotton, ibid, p. 110. For a brief description of the Protestant Version, see Herbert, A. S., Historical Catalogue of Printed Editions of the English Bible 1525-1961, British and Foreign Bible Society, London and The New York Bible Society, N.Y. (1968), #1577. For a description of its Catholic equivalent, which went through three editions, see Pope, Hugh, 0. P., English Versions of the Bible, Revised and Amplified by Sebastian Bullough, O.P., B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis & London, 1952, pp. 412-415, and article by the present author, “Number Covers: Forgotten Artifacts of Early Bible Printing,” Bible Collectors’ World, Volume 12, No. 2, April, 1996, pp. 16-17.

9. It should be noted that Hills questions whether certain early folio Bibles with American imprints were actually published in this country due to certain similarities to current British editions and due to the inclusion of engraved illustrations printed in England. Although Hills does not raise this issue in connection with the Cummiskey folio, (no. 518), see comments in items nos. 16, 226, & 433. The title page of Cummiskey’s edition states flatly that it was “printed and published by Eugene Cummiskey.”

10. O’Callaghan, op. cit., p. 171. This source gives 1823-1825 as dates of publication. However, advertisements in The Truth Teller, op. cit., indicate a completion date of 1826 (see illustration).

11. Parsons, op. cit, p.151.

12. Catalogue of American Catholic Books, Eugene Cummiskey, Publisher, Bookseller, and Importer, Philadelphia, 1870.

13. Parsons, op. cit                                                

14. Cotton and Herbert make no mention of the Cummiskey folio. Pope does not include it in his narrative collation (p. 397); however, it appears in Bullough’s supplement (p. 721).