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The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, by Richard Lovett, Privately Published, 1899

{Ed. Note: This article is from Books and Vines contributor dlphcoracl.}

When thinking of the great libraries in Great Britain one inevitably thinks of the British Library and the libraries at the two great British universities: University of Oxford (the Bodleian Libraries) and Cambridge University (Cambridge University Libraries and the Fitzwilliam Museum Reference Library).  However, unjustly neglected in this thinking is the superb library at the University of Manchester, the John Rylands Library (JRL).

The JRL was founded by Enriqueta Rylands as a tribute to her husband, John Rylands, a wealthy industrialist in Manchester.  She commissioned a design from architect Basil Champneys and the resulting Victorian Neo-Gothic structure has been placed on Great Britain’s Grade 1 list of historical structures.  Its main reading room is one of Great Britain’s most impressive, as you can see here and here.

The core of the library’s special collection holdings is the George John Spenser, 2nd Earl Spencer, collection Mrs. Rylands purchased from his descendant, John Poyntz Spencer, the 5th Earl Spencer, in 1892 for 210,000 British pounds.  The 2nd Earl Spencer’s collection was assembled over a 35 year period from 1788 to 1823 at Althorp in Northamptonshire with additions by successive generations of the family.  At time of sale it was acknowledged to be the finest private collection in the world, known as the Althorp Library of Lord Spencer.  It contained 43,000 books and amongst its priceless treasures were a Gutenberg Bible,  3,000 items of incunabula (books printed before 1501), the most extensive collection of the Aldine Press of Venice (books printed by Aldus Manutius), and the second largest collection of printing by William Caxton.  The English incunables include over 60 Caxtons as well as works from other printers such as John LettouWilliam de Machlinia, Richard Pynson and Wynkyn de Worde, including a unique copy of his 1498 edition of Le Morte Darthur, and the only two surviving copies of the Caxton edition of Morte Darthur.  Within Lord Spenser’s Althorp collection is an extraordinary Bible Collection which includes Bibles in more than 400 different languages, published over five centuries. In addition to the 42-line Gutenberg Bible printed in Mainz, Germany in 1455 and the even rarer 36-line Bible printed in Bamberg in 1458-1460 are nearly 100 editions of the Latin Vulgate Bible printed before 1500, first editions in virtually every language, the four great Polyglot Bibles of the 16th and 17th centuries, including the Complutensian of Acala, and a complete overview of the history and evolution of the Bible in the English language from Tyndale to the present day. Richard Lovett’s book catalogues and chronicles an important subset of the JRL Bible Collection, the English Bible from 1525 to 1640.

Lovett was born in Croydon on 5 January 1851, attending Cheshunt College at London University from 1869 to 1874, graduating with honors in philosophy with B.A. and M.A. degrees. Following Cheshunt he was ordained to be minister at the Countess of Huntingdon’s connexion and he began his ministerial work at Bishop’s Stortford.  In 1882 he left his ministerial positions to pursue his interests in the literary field and publishing.  He became book editor of the Religious Tract Society and then became director of the London Missionary Society while also assembling a personal collection of early English Bibles.  Following the purchase of the Althorp Collection of Lord Spenser and the establishment of the JRL, he was drawn to their collection of early English Bibles and set about to document and examine the importance of the JRL collection of early English Bibles in great detail.  The book was published one year prior to the formal opening to the public of the John Rylands Library in 1900.  In his preface, Lovett notes:

Long prior to the acquisition of Lord Spencer’s marvelous collection (the Althorp Collection), the plan had been formed, and carried far on the road to completion, of making the JRL especially strong in English Bibles and Testaments.  This, strange to say, was one of the departments in which the Althorp Library was weak….  Before the addition of the Althorp books the JRL had become exceptionally strong in this department, and only required to be supplemented by such volumes as the choicest Althorp exemplars to make it what it is today, a collection rivaling in many important respects that of the British Museum itself.  

[NOTE: The library collection of the British Museum was separated from it in 1972, forming what is now the British Library].

In writing what he hoped would be “the best catalogue of English Bibles in existence”, Lovett had two overriding aims – again, quoting directly from Lovett’s preface:

To give a complete and accurate description of each book from the bibliographical standpoint.

And

To indicate accurately, and in detail commensurate with the importance of each book as a cardinal edition, the place it takes in the history of the text of the English translation, and the influence which it has exerted upon thedevelopment of that noble version.

The English Bibles in the book are organized chronologically from 1525 to 1640.  It begins, however, with the Legenda Aura (The Golden Legend) because, “although strictly speaking it is not a Bible, it is nevertheless the printed form in which many Englishmen were first able to read the Bible stories in their mother tongue.”  The book is illustrated with 26 facsimile plates and 29 engravings.  These were chosen with care with the specific aim “of both illustrating the text of each catalogue (Bible), but also what is not to be met with in other volumes of the English Bible.”  Lovett notes: “The engravings in the text are always reproductions of something of special interest in the book under whose title they appear.

The book is folio size measuring 15 3/8 inches height by 11 1/2 inches width, weighing 10 lbs. (4100 grams). The deluxe binding made by Zaehnsdorf is crushed dark brown morocco, title gilt-stamped on the spine with five raised bands, gilt-ruled inside dentelles, with top edge gilt and other edges uncut.  The book was printed letterpress in red and black by Hazell, Watson and Viney Ltd., London and Aylesbury, on a thick handmade paper.  It is xvi, 275+(1) pages. The book is unnumbered and the size of this edition is uncertain.  However, in a brief review of the book in the Journal of Religion, Volume 5, Number 1, Jan. 1901, published by the University of Chicago Press, the reviewer laments:

The avowed ideal of its author has been “to make it the best catalogue of English Bibles in existence” and, judging from the extensive and elaborate descriptions it is certainly entitled to take rank with the well-known critical works of Francis Fry.  It is to be regretted, however, that the edition is limited to something in the neighborhood of eighty copies, which makes it quite unavailable, even to specialists.

The book was printed for private circulation and few (if any) copies were available for sale to book collectors. Most likely, the book was issued to wealthy donors and supporters of the John Rylands Library, to high-ranking clergy, and to the library collections of major churches throughout the United Kingdom.

About the Edition

Pictures of the Edition

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The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Binding – front cover
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Binding by Zaehnsdorf – Spine with gilt title
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Title Page
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Table of Contents – page one
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Table of Contents – page two
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Facsimile plate illustrations – partial list
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Partial list of engravings illustrations
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The Golden Legende. Folio. London. 1483
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Engraving of the Resurrection, from Caxton’s “Golden Legend”
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Sample Text page, #1
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Sample Text page, #2
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Plate showing First Title and Title to the Book of Numbers, and Engravings of the Shewbread and of the Golden Candlestick, from the Tindale Pentateuch, 1530 – 1534.
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The title, “All the Prophetes”, from the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The First Page of Genesis from the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535, Containing the Six Engravings of the Days of Creation
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Folio XLI of the Pentateuch in the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535, containing the engraving of the Tabernacle and the Camp
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Aaron in his Robes, from the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535 and Gideon’s Men Lapping the Water, from the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The double-page map in the Coverdale Folio Bible, 1535
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The New Testament title, with the date fraudulently altered in the Lauderdale Matthew folio Bible, 1537
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Initials used in the Coverdale quarto Bible, 1537
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Engraving of St. Mark on Folio i, recto of the Coverdale octavo Testament, 1538
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, Sample Text page #3
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The title “The Thirde Parte of the Byble” of the Great Bible, folio, 1539
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The woodcut title of the first folio edition of the Authorized Version, 1611, the “He” Bible
The English Bible in the John Rylands Library, Privately Published, The woodcut title of the first folio edition of the Authorized Version, 1611, the “He” Bible. Top portion of page, macro.
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