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.