Jonathan Byrd Collection

No single book has had a more profound impact and influence on Western culture than the Holy Bible. The period of discovery, settlement and development of English speaking America by the Europeans, of course, brought with it the Bible. However, the rights of its publication in the New World were fiercely guarded, and of some considerable value. As such, no Bible in the English language was permitted to be printed in the Colonies, and this stricture held firm until the Colonies revolted in 1776 (although Bibles in languages other than English were permitted and three German Bibles were published before the Revolution). Once the shackles were removed, the production of the Bible in America blossomed and over 2000 editions of the Bible and Testament were printed in the United States before 1900.

Surprisingly, many of these Bibles are very rare, and there have been few significant collections formed that show the breadth and variety of the printing of these works. The Bibles here described represent the most important collection of American Bibles formed in recent times, and certainly the most important in private hands today.

Notable rarities include the first English Bible printed in America by Robert Aitken in 1782; the first three Bibles in a European language, German, including the 1743 edition printed by Christoph Saur; the first illustrated Bible printed by Isaiah Thomas in 1791; the first Catholic Bible printed by Mathew Carey in 1790; and the beautifully printed Hot Press Bible printed by John Thompson and Abraham Small in 1798.

Above all, however, is the New Testament printed by Francis Bailey at Philadelphia in 1780. This little Testament, of extraordinary rarity, represents what is probably the third successful attempt at printing a Bible or a Testament in the newly independent states. The first such was printed in 1777 of which two copies are known. Two other Testaments were purported to have been printed in 1778 and 1779, but no copies have ever been seen. Of another Testament printed in 1779 in Trenton, New Jersey, one copy is known. The Bailey Testament and two other editions were printed in 1780, one in Boston and a second, printed by Hall and Sellers, in Philadelphia. In the case of the latter two editions, only one copy is known of each. Of the Bailey edition, other than the copy in the Byrd Collection, only one imperfect copy is known. Further, it is highly unlikely that another of these early Testaments is likely to be discovered. That the Byrd copy is in such splendid condition only adds to its beauty.

The Byrd Collection is resplendent in its depth and breadth of editions and cannot be duplicated. It represents the fruits of a dedicated collection sharing with an informed public, his notable treasures.

Michael Zinman
Ardsley, New York 1995