Source: The New York Times
Drew University, founded in Madison, N.J., in 1867 as a Methodist seminary, is known for its unusually rich collection of rare books and manuscripts, including hundreds of historic Bibles, a 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle and extensive holdings relating to Willa Cather.
Now, a graduate student has discovered a treasure the library didn’t know it had: a first edition of the King James Bible.
The 1611 Bible, which surfaced in late October, is a so-called “He Bible,” named for a typographical error in the Book of Ruth that was corrected in the middle of the first printing. Of the fewer than 200 King James first editions known to survive, most are “She” copies.
Brian Shetler, a doctoral candidate in book history who works in the library, discovered the Bible when he was hunting through the rare-book shelves, pulling a sampling of 17th-century books printed in England to show to a history class. It was in a box with a label mentioning “Bible,” “1611” and “R. Barker,” a seeming reference to the London printer Robert Barker.
“I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting,’” Mr. Shetler said. “I knew Barker had published the King James Bible, but I thought there was no way we would have one and not know about it.”
The title page was missing, but the binding included an undated seller’s note, probably from the late 19th century, identifying it as a “He Bible,” its title page “wanting,” priced at a mere 2 pounds, 12 shillings and 6 pence. Mr. Shetler and Cassie Brand, the library’s special collections cataloger, then checked for the rogue pronoun and several other well-known typos.
“I was just shocked,” Mr. Shetler said. “A bunch of people gathered around, trying to look at the book and figure it out. But then we all had to get back to work.”
Ms. Brand and others fully authenticated the volume by checking a total of 35 distinguishing features, including woodcuts that are unique to the King James Bible.
The Bible will be added to the library’s current exhibition,“Discoveries and Donations: Uncovered Treasures at Drew University Library,” which runs until Feb. 22, though it might more properly be labeled a rediscovery.
Material in the library’s archives indicate that the volume, which was listed in a 1950 card catalog but not in the digital catalog, was exhibited at the library in 1935 and again in 1977. It was also featured in a 1925 promotional silent film, which showed librarians opening the book to its New Testament title page, followed by an inter-title identifying it as “one of the library’s many treasures.”
“Archivists had seen this film, but apparently it didn’t click that it might have been a first-issue,” said Chris Anderson, the school’s acting dean of libraries and head of special collections.
When Mr. Shetler made his discovery, the library was already in the midst of a manual survey, or “shelf-read,” of its estimated 75,000 rare books. (Many libraries have not fully cataloged or even countedtheir holdings, especially in special collections.)
On the expedition where he found the King James Bible, Mr. Shetler also discovered a late 16th-century Plantin Polyglot Bible, an eight-volume set of scripture in Hebrew, Greek, Syriac and Aramaic, with Latin translations commentary, that was printed in Antwerp. (Most of the original 1,200 or so copies went down in a shipwreck in 1572, and complete sets are hard to find.)
“It’s not nearly as ‘Wow’ of an item,” Mr. Shetler said of the Plantin, which has yet to be fully authenticated. “But it’s another thing we didn’t know we had.”