John Brown Self-Interpreting Bible

Read more about the John Brown Self-Interpreting Bible (PDF).

John Brown (1722-1787) was a Scottish weaver who became a Presbyterian minister. Although self-educated, he prepared an annotated Bible, Bible dictionary and concordance, and a metrical version of the Psalms. His self-interpreting Bible appeared first in 1778 in Edinburgh and was reprinted many times in both Scotland and America. A Bible used on the Battleship Texas was even a Self-Interpreting Bible (displayed elsewhere in the Museum). This edition, the first Bible printed in New York, was printed by subscription in forty parts over a period of two years. The first subscriber was George Washington. He was President at the time and living in New York, then the capital.
The list of subscribers for the 1792 Self-Interpreting Bible printed in New York included the occupations and state of the subscriber.  Selling Bibles on subscription was frequent in the early 19th century.  Subscriptions enabled the printer to know how many Bibles to print.  As portions of the Bible were printed, subscribers would receive the portions in paper wrappers every month.  After about two years, they would have the entire Bible.  Then they could take it to the binder to be bound.  This method enabled long-term payments by the subscriber, and helped the printer in that he did not have to store up all the printed pages for the two years it took him to print the Bible.
Frontispiece to the 1792 Self-Interpreting Bible shows America (with Indian-style headdress of feathers) sitting holding the Constitution. On the Liberty Tree are engraved the names of American heroes – Washington, Montgomery, Greene, Warren, Adams, …Liberty is standing holding a Liberty cap on pole. On the building in the background is written “Sacred to Liberty, Justice, and Peace,” and statues of those three virtues top the building. Justice and Peace are on either side of the eagle-top medallion at the top of the page. A lady, probably peace, is kneeling and giving America the Bible.