The Sauer Bible
Whenever a librarian or curator begins working at a new library, he or she is given the overwhelming, though gratifying, challenge of getting to know the collection. When I was in library school, my advisor John Ellison gave me sound advice that when I start any new job to spend time afterhours and during breaks just browsing the stacks until I felt comfortable in my new surroundings. I’ve since made this a habit.
When I first arrived at RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection last September, a great many books called to me from the shelves, but one book in particular really beckoned. Here’s what I saw:
I happen to love books that are missing their binding material. Though they can be a challenge to handle, they are great examples to use when teaching bookbinding and the anatomy of books. From a distance, the book looked early to me, perhaps sixteenth-century. When I opened it, however, I quickly realized it was a later German Bible. Its title page was missing (a common ailment in early Bibles), so I moved forward to the beginning of the New Testament, which often has its own title page.
Two things jumped off the New Testament title page: “Saur” and “1743.”
How exciting! This book was a copy of the first edition of “The Sauer Bible.” In an earlier post, Hannibal Hamlin mentioned John Eliot’s missionary Bible translated into the Native American language Massachusett and Robert Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible produced during the American Revolutionary War.”
Printed in 1663 and 1782, respectively, these were the first and third Bibles printed in the United States. Both appeared in the Folger’s Manifold Greatness exhibition. The Sauer Bible could have as well. Historically, it rests between Eliot’s Massachusett Bible and Aitken’s “Revolutionary” Bible, as the second Bible printed in the United States and the first Bible printed in America in a European language.
The Sauer Bible takes its name from Christoph Sauer, a German immigrant and printer in Germantown, PA who in 1743 sought to publish a Luther Bible in German for the waves of immigrants that were making their homes in Pennsylvania.
When in the fall of 2013, the Cary Collection attempts its own Bible exhibition, this copy of the Sauer Bible will certainly be featured as an important artifact in the history of the Bible in America. For more on this topic, I would recommend Hannibal Hamlin’s essay “The King James Bible in America” from the Manifold Greatness exhibition catalog.
Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology, is co-curator of the Manifold Greatness exhibition at the Folger Shakespeare Library.