Rare Bibles in Special Collections
Some of the rare Bibles in Special Collections were recently featured in the Fall 2014 issue of BYU Magazine. What makes a Bible rare and collectable? If you have an old Bible in your possession, would BYU Special Collections be a good home for it? There are a number of factors to consider:
1. Old does not necessarily equal rare. The Bible is one of the most frequently-printed texts in the world. Hundreds of thousands of copies are printed each year. 19th and early 20th century Bibles, while often featuring beautiful bindings or illustrations, are usually not considered rare. BYU Special Collections has chosen to collect Bibles that date from the 17th century and earlier, though the collection contains several modern fine press editions of the Bible which are collectible in their own right. As a rule, we do not accept donations of Bibles printed after 1700.
2. Translations. The Bible has been translated into many languages over time. Some translations are highly collectible due to their historical impact, word choice, or even translation and typographical errors. Special Collections’ rare Bible collection focuses on important vernacular translations of the Bible, and particularly early English translations leading up to the King James Version, the Bible translation used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We also collect polyglot Bibles — which contain multiple versions of the biblical text in several languages — dating from the Renaissance and Reformation periods. And our Americana collection includes early Bible translations into Native American languages of tribes in the Intermountain West.
3. Place of publication. The first Bible edition published in a particular location can be highly collectible. While BYU Special Collections has not chosen to focus its Bible collection on such “firsts,” it does include leaves from landmark Bibles like the Gutenberg Bible, the first printed Bible in Europe, and the Eliot Indian Bible, the first printed Bible in the New World.
4. Provenance. The term “provenance” refers to the custodial history of a book or document. Many old Bibles have been passed down from generation to generation and carry family history and other ownership marks. While this information may be important to the family, it does not necessarily make that particular copy rare or valuable. Special Collections owns a few Bibles owned by prominent figures, but those Bibles have been added to the collections as parts of larger archives of primary source documents (for example, the Hyrum Smith papers or Thomas L. Kane papers). Special Collections generally does not collect Bibles owned by early members of the LDS Church.
If you have an older Bible in your possession, especially one formerly owned by an ancestor in the 19th century, we highly recommend preserving it in your own family. There are many great resources online to help you protect and care for your Bible, including the Library of Congress’s Family Treasures website.