Bible Scarcity Reaches the Civil War

by Admin on December 20, 2014 · Rare Religious Books

Winchester BibleCollectors who buy and sell Bibles have pushed the pricing of older editions printed prior to the 1700’s in Europe, and prior to the 1800’s in North America, to unreachable levels for the majority of liturgical buyers. During the second half of the last century, institutional and private collectors have driven these editions of the most common book ever to be published, to scarcity. If you are looking for value that is still attainable, you need to search beyond “old age”. Even though the Bible has been widely printed, distributed worldwide and translated into 2,018 languages, with an estimated 7 billion copies printed, it is still one of the most collectible books available.

The average, religion genre collector is not likely to own any of the most desirable rarities such as the fifty or so surviving copies of the 1454 A.D. Johannes Gutenberg Bible. Single leaves from the vibrant-colored artwork and masterful calligraphy are selling for $50,000. All illuminated, medieval Bibles containing gold and other pigments to the parchment are treasured by museums, cathedrals and libraries.

It would also be quite impossible to own the Lincoln Bible, once owned by the U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, and later donated by the Lincoln family to the Library of Congress. Copies of the same Oxford University Press edition of the King James Bible (KJV), published in 1853 that were once considered quite common, have also become quite scarce.

Among the most valuable Bibles printed during the 19th century, are the Soldier’s Bibles used at the time of the American Civil War. Such editions are of interest not only to the collectors of Religion but also to collectors of Americana and Military. Bibles owned by confederate soldiers in the South, fall into one of three editions that are categorized as “Confederate”:

  1. New York-based American Bible Society
  2. Nashville Tennessee-based Bible Society
  3. Augusta, Georgia-based Confederate States Bible Society.

The Confederate editions are very scarce because of the Union blockade that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed in order to prevent the Confederacy from trading. In his book “A History of Book Publishing in the United States,” John Tebbel attributes the shortage of New Testaments to the limited availability of Southern presses and the few organizations such as the Bible Society that were successful in importing from England through the blockade. Tebbel writes: “The Bible shortage in the Confederate States of America is so severe that Union prisoners in Richmond, Va. were selling their copies for up to $15.00 each in order to buy food.” [1]

The New York-based American Bible Society opted to supply Bibles to both sides of the conflict, but distributing them to Confederate troops proved daunting. Despite facing obvious challenges, distributing Bibles during the Civil War included being intercepted as contraband by Union forces. Such editions are the least scarce from all three, even though they often carried the name, rank and other handwritten notes to indicate confederate ownership. They were mass-produced and imported from the North in the later years of the war, when raw materials such as paper, ink and leather became nearly impossible to obtain in the South.

Southern publishers such as the Tennessee Bible Society in Nashville, rose to meet the demand by publishing pocket sized New Testaments “at low cost, for general circulation among the soldiers of the South.”[2] This Soldier’s Pocket Bible was issued in 1861 at the very beginning of the American Civil War. It as an exact reproduction of one issued in 1643 during the English Civil War. The quote on the title page, “Trust in the Lord and keep your powder dry,” was Oliver Cromwell’s famous battle cry to his troops. The supply was short-lived and thus quite scarce.

The KJV of the New Testament published by the Southern Confederate states is the most valuable of all three. The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (Augusta, Georgia: Confederate States Bible Society, 1862. Printed by Wood, Hanleiter, Rice. ), is the first Confederate Bible. About 11 copies of this Confederate States of America Bible are believed to be in existence.

 

Tennessee Bible Society  pocket size New Testament

Tennessee Bible Society pocket size New Testament

 

[1] Tebbel, John. A History of Book Publishing in the United States 3-Vols. (NY) R.R. Bowker. 1972.

[2] The Richmond Daily Dispatch, Nov. 4, 1861

 

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

clay feeter August 2, 2015 at 12:29 am

I have a signed Confederate artilleryman’s bible. Wm. Leffler served all thru the Civil War in Cobb’s Kentucky Battery..
Would be interested in selling it.
Clay
Feeter 603-209-4343

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Ken Bevan March 11, 2016 at 5:47 pm

do you still have the confederate bible? is it the augusta 1862? how much do you want for it? Ken

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Ken Bevan March 11, 2016 at 5:50 pm

how much is the cconfederate bible? who is publisher?

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Michelle July 22, 2016 at 3:25 am

I have a 1862 New Testament that I am interested in selling. It is from the American Bible Society. There is some writing in the front that says how it was passed down in the family. It is in good condition. You can call me. I am on Mountain Standard time. I have a few other books if anyone is interested. 435 433 2166

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Kelly August 1, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Where did you find the information on the Augusta Confederate Bibles and where are the 11 existing copies today?

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michael christman August 2, 2016 at 2:59 pm

I saw a small pocket bible, stamped in gold on the cover with the image of a dove, an open bible and the title ” Glad Tidings, Cromwell’s Soldiers Bible” The sales tag says it is from 1860 and just called it a soldier prayer book. Is this rare or valuable? It is in very good shape.

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Bill Lantz August 4, 2016 at 8:41 pm

About 3 Springs ago I bought some books at a rummage sale. I paid 50 cents for an old Bible. 9 days later as I looked through it, I discovered that it was an Atlanta Confederate New Testament. The cover was still in good condition. It was missing just a few pages of Matthew. One of the greatest finds that I have ever come across!

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