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very rare book tells a story. Collected over almost 200 years by the American Bible Society, the Rare Bible Collection @ MOBIA tells many. Johannes Gutenberg printed the first book, a Bible, in 1455. Since that first printing, the Bible has been one of the most reproduced and translated books in the world. The history of the printed Bible is intimately linked to the history of the printed book—to its manufacture, illustration, binding, merchandizing, distribution, ownership, and use.

The rare book collection in MOBIA’s care is one of the oldest libraries in the United States. Begun in 1817 by the American Bible Society, itself founded just a year earlier, the Collection is the largest rare printed Bible collection in the western hemisphere. Each edition has a story and together the Collection reveals insights about book production and preservation as well as the individuals who used and donated a particular volume. As a rare book library, the Collection affords exploration of the role of the printed Bible in western culture and in the life of the United States since the early decades of the country’s founding. The Collection also tells the story of the American Bible Society, one of the oldest not-for-profit organizations and publishing houses in the United States.

Since 2010, MOBIA has been thematically exploring the Collection’s manuscripts, incunables (books printed before 1501), and rare printed books through a series of exhibitions and publications. This site offers visitors an opportunity to spend some time with our rare Bibles.  If you would like to see our rare books in person, please check MOBIA’s exhibition calendar for a glimpse of what’s on view.

31 responses to “Home

  1. Mark Peterson

    I have a bible from 1901 that I am trying to find its worth. I am not sure what info you need or if you can help but anything would be greatful. Thanks
    Mark

  2. Dr. Liana Lupas

    The English Bible was first printed in 1535 and by 1901 countless millions of copies had been produced. The only 1901 English Bible that can be considered a rare book is the one printed by Thomas Nelson and Sons, which happens to be the first edition of the American Standard Version.

    The policy of our Library is not to do any monetary evaluation, and the value of a book is to some extent determined by its physical condition and cannot be established sight unseen.

    –Dr. Liana Lupas, Curator

  3. Steve Truelove

    I have a Bible that I bought back in 1978 at a yard sale it was 1836 German Lutheran Bible. It wasn’t in very good condition when I bought it and has deteriorated over the years. From what I have been able to figure out it looks like it may have been printed in Philadelphia. I was wondering how rare this book was and if it would be worth getting it rebound. It has the first few pages of Genesis missing but it came like that when I bought it. Any other information you could give me would be greatly appreciated thank you

  4. Would an American in about 1820 in the North East of the United States, who read and spoke only English, have had access to any other translation of the Bible except the KJV? What other versions might have been available?

  5. Lindsay Viola

    I am an Art History major, but when I graduate and go for my masters I would love to be in a program for conservation. I am interested in directly book and paper conservation. I was wondering if there was a conservation lab in which I would be able to apply for an internship?

  6. Brenda Massaro

    We have a 1863 American Bible Society large Bible with hindges on the side. We would like to know if it can be repaired and its worth vs having it repaired. Thank you for your input.

  7. Lindsay, We do have a conservation lab and take interns for special projects. Contact the museum directly and ask for the conservator.

  8. Barb Hartwick

    I have an American Bible Society Bible that was published in 1892. I too, am wondering it’s value. Instituted in the year MDCCCXVI

  9. Jim Prewitt

    I am a Bible collector and also have an interest in the work of the American Bible Society Auxiliaries in the state of Kentucky during the nineteenth century. I have been searching for one of the 6000 Bibles that were printed by the Kentucky Auxiliary Bible Society for the ABS for some time. I recently found a copy of a 2nd printing dated 1821 that was not for sale but the owner wanted to know what it was worth. I believe there were 3 editions printed in Kentucky between 1819 and 1824 of 2000 each. Any information you could give me about them would be helpful, especially what I should expect to pay for each edition should I ever find one. Do you have these in your collection?
    Thanks,
    Jim Prewitt

  10. Where can I find information on bible publishing dates. I have a few and would love to know when they were printed. Where can I look to find this information along with what dates and what versions were printed in what year.

  11. Is there anyone, anywhere who may have any clues as to:
    A) the whereabouts of Mr J. N. Darby’s (Translator) own personal copy of his 1871 New Testament, or
    B) If there are any examples of the first issue of J. N. Darby’s French Old Testament, in installments (livraisons) from the 1881-1885 era?
    I am keen to find this out if possible. Many thanks, and…

    Best regards

  12. Stephanie Ginensky

    Does the museum have a collection of Hebrew Bibles that were brought over to America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe/Russia? If so, is it possible to examine the Bibles for research purposes?

  13. Our collection includes a significant number of Hebrew Bibles dating from the sixteenth century up to the present. None of them seems to have belonged to an immigrant from Eastern Europe or Russia. Researchers are always welcome to consult the collection but need to make an appointment with the Curator.

  14. In addition to the King James or Authorized Version, the Catholic translation known as the Douay-Rheims version was available in the United States in 1820. It had been printed in Philadelphia by Mathew Carey in 1790 and 1805 and could also be obtained from Dublin or London.

  15. The German Bible was first printed in Germantown, near Philadelphia, in 1743 by Christopher Saur, also known as Sauer or Sower (1693-1758). Michael Billmeyer printed it in Philadelphia since the late 1790s and the American Bible Society since 1834. If you provide a transcription of the title page of your Bible I will be able to give you more information about your Bible.

  16. The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 and published its first English Bible before the end of the year. ABS reprinted the King James Bible each and every year in various formats and typefaces for the next 150 years or so. By 1900 it had distributed at least 50 million copies. A King James Bible published by ABS in 1892 has no monetary value.

  17. According to Margaret T. Hills, “The English Bible in America” (New York, ABS and NYPK, 1961), the Kentucky Auxiliary Bible Society printed 2,000 copies of this edition from plates sent by ABS. The purpose was to provide Scriptures west of the Alleghenies. The general title page has the date 1819 while the New Testament title page is dated 1817. The ABS Library has a copy and so does the New York Public Library. Our copy was never appraised.

  18. Sometimes the date of publication of a Bible is indicated in the so-called key line, a line in fine print at the bottom of the page following the title page or on the verso of the title page. A key line may read, for example, “ABS-1968-100,000” or “5146M 43”. In the first case 1968 is the date of publication and 1000,000 indicates how many copies were printed. In the second case 514M represents the number of copies printed, that is 514,000 , and 43, the date of publication, that is 1943. Some publishers do not indicate the date of a Bible if it was reprinted frequently from stereotype plates or by photographic technology. This is notably the case with Oxford University Press.

  19. I am sorry to report that I do not know what happened to N. Darby’s copy of the 1871 New Testament and our collection does not include a copy of the French Old Testament you are interested in.

  20. Hi i have a bible that is the old and new testament revised from original greek, printer henry frowde, oxford university press, new york 33, east 17th street. there is no date on this bible though would anyone be able to help me find a date for it lease?

  21. In about 1864 Oxford University Press (OUP) introduced electrotyping, a technology that allowed it to reprint successful books as the need for new copies arose. As batches of identical books were produced at different times, OUP practically omitted to indicate the exact date of publication of each copy. Henry Frowde, whose name is mentioned on the title page of your Bible, was employed by OUP from 1874 until his retirement in 1913. In 1880 he was appointed Publisher of the University. We can safely assume that your Bible was published sometime between 1880 and 1913.

  22. Thank you for your reply. Would this bible have any value then at all please?

  23. The policy of our organization is not to make any appraisals. However, I feel I can safely tell you that English Bibles published after 1800 rarely have any monetary value. This is particularly true of mass-produced editions printed from stereotype or electrotype plates.

  24. Hello! I’m a collector of old books of mainly 1st editions of of several differant subjects, and came across a ‘mathew carey” 1805 bible, philadelpia, it seems to be a family bible from around that same time. it’s an old and new testiment #122 if you need more info, i may get it, but my question is how rare this bible is, binding looks to be nice shape. and in good condition for it’s age.

  25. Matthew Carey printed two different editions of the English Bible in 1805: a Catholic edition in the Rheims-Douay Version (Hills 120) and a Protestant edition in the King James Version (Hills 121). The first one (Hills 120) is the second Catholic Bible printed in America and a rare and valuable book. The second one (Hills 121) is far less significant. It has some historical value as an early American Bible, but it is not in the same class as the Catholic edition because since many other American publishers had printed the same text before Carey.

  26. Do you have any unpointed Hebrew Bibles in any form?

  27. I do not know how many unpointed editions of the Hebrew Bible we have. The only one I am aware of is the following:

    Biblia Hebraica sine punctis
    Oxford: Clarendon, 1750
    edited by Nathaniel Forster based on E. van der Hooght’s Bible of 1705, see DM 5151

  28. I have an Italian Marble Tile with the face of Jesus in it. I would like to submit it to you for you’re opinion.

  29. Delores Paulus

    I am trying to find someone who would like this old bible I have. It is very big. I would like to know if it’s worth anything. Thanks Delores.

  30. I was wondering how many of the first 1816 ABS bibles were printed and how rare they are now?

    Thanks J & J

  31. The American Bible Society (ABS) printed its first English Bible in 1816 from stereotype plates donated by the New York Bible Society. ABS issued 10,000 copies that sold for $1 to &1.85 depending on the quality of the paper.
    The1816 ABS Bible is now considered a rare book and a collector’s item. We do not know how many of the 10,000 copies survive. At least 6 copies are preserved in the following libraries: ABS (2 copies), Library of Congress, New York Public Library, Albion College in Michigan, American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass.

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