Bible of the RevolutionThe Aitken Bible is one of the most celebrated American Bibles, considered to be the first complete English Bible printed in America. Before the War for Independence, British law gave a monopoly for printing the King James Version of the Bible to the Royal Printer; thus compelling the colonies to buy their Bibles from England. Therefore, when the Revolution began, the supplies of British Bibles were cut off creating a shortage. With the victory at the Battle of Yorktown, America became free from British policies, including the longstanding one against printing a Bible in English in America.

Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer, was the first to publish the first American edition of the K.J.V. New Testament in 1781 and the K.J.V. Old Testament in 1782, omitting the Apocrypha. On completion, he petitioned and received from the Congress of the Confederation, an official endorsement that Aitken added to the binding of his Bibles, to assure colonists that they were buying a non-royalist edition: “Resolved, that the United States in Congress assembled… recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation.” As a result, the Aitken Bible is often referred to as “The Bible of the Revolution.”

The Aitken edition of the Bible turned into a financial loss, despite Dr. John Rodgers’, of the First Presbyterian Church of New York, suggestion to General George Washington to give a copy of the Aitken’s Bible to every discharged soldier. It was 1783, and Congress had already ordered the discharge of two-thirds of the army, bringing the war to a close. Rogers’ suggestion remained unfulfilled. In the meantime, two other American printers duplicated Aitken’s effort, and released their own editions.

The first Bible printed in the British colonies in America was the famous Eliot Indian Bible, in the Algonquin language, issued in Cambridge in 1661-63 and reprinted in 1680-85. Before Aitken completed his well-known edition, The 18th-century saw the printing of Bibles in German and the importation of Bibles from Britain and Holland, until 1782. Only six American printings of the New Testament alone prior to Aitken’s are extant. The first two were published in 1777 and 1779, while the other four were all produced in 1780. Only one copy of each of these New Testaments is in existence today, most of them in less than perfect condition.

While any one of these Bibles is very difficult to find in any condition, the price usually varies significantly, primarily depending on the condition. This highspot amongst printed Americana can vary in price from mid five figures to well over six figures depending primarily on condition and provenance secondarily. Sotheby’s provided a nice comparable on back-to-back year sales of two copies of the Aitken Bible in their “Fine Books & Manuscripts, including Americana” auction event. One sold for $93,750 in December of 2013, while in June of 2014 another copy, (with the extra flaws of having the Congressional Resolution leaf bound to the end of the Old Testament, lacking two extra leaves and being shaved at the bottom with loss of quire mark), sold for $37,500 (including the buyer premium).

American editions of scripture in general, have long been the subject of exhaustive efforts by collectors and institutions. From the earliest Bay Psalm Book, to the American Bibles with historical importance, the discovery of any unaccounted for editions is quite a rare event. A late discovery of a previously unrecorded 1780 Boston printing of the New Testament, two years before the Aitken’s Bible, which was included in the Jay T. Snider collection of historical Americana, sold for $138,000 at a Christie’s auction in 2005! As such rarities get picked up by institutions the occurrence of transactions such as these become less common even for the most common book ever to be printed.



Brexit rare books

The 2nd quarter of 2016 felt the tremors caused by the UK affirmative Brexit vote. The subsequent drop in the value of the British currency delivered a rather controlled above normal interest in rare books offered in British pounds. Opportunistic buyers took advantage of the lower dollar or euro to sterling exchange rate, mostly through on-line international transactions. While it is quite difficult to predict how the post-Brexit market dynamics will affect the rare book marketplace, it is almost quite certain that the majority of book trade transactions will remain unaffected by currency moves.

The Rare Book Sales Monitor does not adjust to counteract the effect of currency fluctuations. Its comparative analysis is based on sales as recorded and converted to USD on the day of the sale. The scope of the analysis is not to provide a metric for ROI for rare book collections after taking into account prevailing economic conditions such as the rate of inflation or currency fluctuations, but rather to provide a means to help identify trends within a particular genre or author’s activity in the rare book trade.

Outside European cohesion, rare book trades, this year, could be affected by two anniversaries:

- 100th year anniversary of the Dada movement
- 400th year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death

Shakespeare and Dada events held throughout the year at various cities and museums around the world have been raising awareness on the importance of works produced during the author’s and movement’s lives. Despite the fact that it was just 2 years ago that we celebrated the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, his colossal image keeps shining. However, the RBSM is quite insensitive to anniversaries in addition to currency fluctuations. Its primary focus is to record and compare sales of identical, regularly traded rare books in order to identify possible trends at an early stage of development.

During the months of the 2nd quarter of this year, sales amounted to a much broader genre distribution than usual. The historically super active genre of Art/Photography/Architecture was predominantly consistent with the level of interest demonstrated by those of the Modern First Editions, Science and the Children’s categories. In the author breakdown, Darwin continued the trend recorded during the 1st quarter, while all time favorites such as J.K. Rowling, James Joyce and Ian Fleming marked their presence also.

Titles contributing to the overall genre/author price increase during the months of April, May and June include:

1. Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. London: Secker & Warburg, 1949
2. Rand, Ayn; The Fountainhead. Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1943.
3. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, 1859.
4. Eluard, Paul – Man Ray. Facile. Paris: G.L.M., 1935.
5. Shakespeare, William. Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, edited by John Heminge and Henry Condell. London: Isaac Jaggard, and Edward Blount at the Charges of W. Jaggard, Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke, and W. Aspley, 1623.
6. Churchill, Winston. The Collected Works of Sir Winston Churchill. London: Library of Imperial History, 1973.
7. Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, 1860 (2nd edition).
8. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tales of the Jazz Age. New York: Scribner’s, 1922.
9. Rowling J. K. Harry Potter Series. The Philosopher’s Stone. The Chamber of Secrets. The Prisoner of Azkaban. The Goblet of Fire. The Order of The Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 1999-2005.
10. Matisse, Henri; Joyce James. Ulysses. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1935.


RBSM Q2 2016


RBSM Q2 2016




Interview with Dr. Sandra Hindman of Les Enluminures

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 Les Enluminures owner, Dr. Sandra Hindman, is a leading expert on manuscript illumination. Professor Emerita of Art History at Northwestern University, she is author, coauthor, or editor of more than a dozen books, as well as numerous articles on the history and reception of illuminated manuscripts and on medieval rings. These publications include The Robert […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor Update – 1st Quarter 2016

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The Second Sex is undervalued

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