Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

The KJB in History

Manifold Greatness Opens at Elizabethtown College

Members of the Mennonite community view Manifold Greatness at Elizabthtown College. Photo courtesy Elizabthtown College.

Members of the Mennonite community view Manifold Greatness at Elizabthtown College. Photo courtesy Elizabthtown College.

On February 2, central Pennsylvania welcomed the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibit to the High Library at Elizabethtown College. The reception has been overwhelming and we could not be happier with the enthusiasm and support for the exhibit. Even the weather has worked out in our favor and the programs have gone on without a hitch!

Our opening reception was attended by over 200 people, and attracted visitors from outside the area, including individuals from New Jersey and Maryland. To quote our keynote speaker for the event, Jeff Bach, the reception provided “a feast for the eyes in the exhibit and items from our special collections, a feast for the ears thanks to the glorious music provided by our student group Camerata who performed ancient acapella musical selections, a feast for the soul as the Word was read aloud, and our minds through the opening lecture.”

We also hosted a panel discussion on February 6 as scholars discussed “Shakespeare, Literature and the Language of the King James Bible.”  Speakers included Professors Christina Bucher, Louis Martin and Suzanne Webster. On February 7, we were mesmerized by our Elizabethtown’s own Professor Patricia Likos Ricci who lectured on “The Bible as a Work of Art.” Professor Ricci will replay this lecture  on February 19 at the Elizabethtown Public Library. We will also hear from our own Professor Jean-Paul Benowitz on Family Bibles. It has been wonderful to see and experience all the diverse backgrounds and generations who have visited the exhibit. We have had young, old, Mennonite, Brethren, Catholic, Baptist, and Protestant visiting the exhibit.  Our youngest tour thus far has been a group of middle school students who really enjoyed hearing about the Wicked Bible from our student docent, Annemarie. We also hosted a group of Old Order Amish who toured the exhibit with Professors Jeff Bach and Don Kraybill.

The Manifold Greatness exhibition has also provided an opportunity for the High Library special collections to be featured. We have displayed the High Library copy of the 1599 Geneva Bible, the rare 1712 Marburg Bible, and the Berleburg Bible. In addition to the unique displays, the visitors have also enjoyed using iPads we have setup to connect them directly with the audio tour of the exhibit provided by the Folger Shakespeare Library. We hope to continue to reap the rewards of the amazing exhibit and are looking forward to another fantastic 2 weeks with the King James Bible.

Louise M. Hyder-Darlington, M.S.L.S. is Access Services Librarian and Project Director for the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition at the High Library, Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, PA.

A New Bible Translation is Born

Hampton Court Palace, Middlesex, UK/ The Bridgeman Art Library

Hampton Court Palace, Middlesex, UK/ The Bridgeman Art Library

Less than a year after becoming king of England, James I met with clergy from the Church of England on January 14,  16, and 18, 1604 at Hampton Court Palace. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the state of the Church itself. While the Church of England was the established church, initiated by Henry VIII in 1533 after he broke from the Roman Catholic Church, religious practice was not uniform throughout James’ kingdom. James believed that getting all of his subjects on the same page, religiously speaking, would support his own authority.

Although some of the clergymen present at the conference hoped to succeed in further reforming aspects of the Church of England, such as removing the Book of Common Prayer and arguing against church hierarchy that privileged bishops over lower-ranking clergy. To their disappointment, King James had no desire to support a reformist agenda. He did enjoy theological debate, however, and vigorously participated in discussions with the conference attendees. In this regard, James was very unlike his predecessor Queen Elizabeth I, who famously declared, “There is only one Christ, Jesus, one faith. All else is a dispute over trifles,” and generally avoided prolonged discussion of religious issues.

On the second day of the conference, John Rainolds, a leading theologian and President of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, directly addressed the king. Unlike the majority of clergy present at the conference, Rainolds had Puritan sympathies. He hoped to convince King James to reform what the Puritans perceived as abuses within the Church of England. James did not grant these requests. In fact, at one point, the king grew so angry with Rainolds that he left the room. It was from these less than auspicious beginnings that the King James Bible translation was conceived.

Although King James rejected many of the requests made by John Rainolds and the other Puritans, he did agree to one of Rainold’s suggestions; specifically, a new translation of the Bible in English. James believed that the project would unite the various factions of clergymen by giving them a common project to work on. He was also convinced that a new Bible translation, free from commentary that supported either Catholic or Puritan dogma, would bolster the authority of the monarchy and create greater religious harmony among his subjects.

While King James did not play a personal role in creating the translation that bears his name, John Rainolds did. A group of translators met in Rainold’s rooms in Oxford, and Rainolds remained deeply involved in the project until his death in 1607. After years of work by dozen of men in three different locations, the King James Bible was printed in 1611. The rest, as they say, is history.

Click here to watch a short video about the process of creating the King James Bible.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website and Family Guide. She is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

Pilgrims, a Bible, and a Love Triangle

Artistic rendering of John and Priscilla Alden.

As we approach Thanksgiving,  images of the Pilgrims assembled around an autumnal feast may pop into mind as we stock our own cupboards with cranberries, stuffing, and canned pumpkin. Although the Pilgrims did bring food supplies with them on the Mayflower, these items ran out during their first winter in the New World; a successful harvest the following year prompted a celebration of “thanksgiving.”

Artistic rendering of John and Priscilla Alden.

In addition to foodstuffs, weapons, farming supplies, 102 passengers, and two dogs, the Mayflower also carried a copy of the King James Bible belonging to John Alden. In an earlier post, curator Hannibal Hamlin notes that this may have been the first King James Bible to arrive in America.

Alden was not a Pilgrim himself; rather, he was a cooper, or barrel-maker, hired by the Pilgrims at Southampton, where the Mayflower was docked before beginning her trans-Atlantic voyage.  William Bradford, leader of the Pilgrims, described the 21-year-old Alden as a “hopefull yong man.” Alden may also have been a man of faith, choosing to carry a Bible with him as he journeyed to the New World.

 Alden’s youth and skill must have impressed Bradford, for the future governor of the colony also noted that the Pilgrims very much wished that Alden would join them, although they left the final decision in his hands. Upon arrival on the shores of Massachusettes in November 1620, Alden opted to stay with the Pilgrims and added his signature to the Mayflower Compact, signed on November 21, 1620.

Alden soon had another tie to the Pilgrim settlement. Sometime between 1620 and 1623, he married Priscilla Mullins, a young woman in her late teens or very early 20s. Priscilla had sailed with her parents and older brother Joseph on the Mayflower. However, her parents and brother died soon after their arrival in Massachusetts, leaving Priscilla to fend for herself in the new colony. According to folk tradition, her beauty attracted the attention of Miles Standish, the colony’s military adviser,  as well as John Alden, and the two men were deep rivals for her affection. This story prompted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Courtship of Miles Standish.

The historical record offers no evidence of a Mullins-Alden-Standish love triangle. However, Priscilla did end up marrying John Alden (the younger man) and over the course of their long marriage, the couple had 10 children, with a possible 11th child dying in infancy. Several of their descendents became notable figures in their own right; their oldest son, John, escaped being tried for witchcraft in Boston, and a daughter, Sarah, married Alexander Standish, son of Miles Standish and his second wife, Barbara.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was descended from another Alden offspring, and helped immortalize his ancestors through his literary output.

Amy Arden assisted in the development and production of the Manifold Greatness website and Family Guide. She is a Communications Associate at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC.

The Oral Character of the King James Bible

Bible. English. Authorized. London, 1611. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Bible. English. Authorized. London, 1611. Folger Shakespeare Library.

The year 2011 constituted the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. Originally created by England’s Anglican Church, it became widely used by all Protestant denominations in America until the twentieth century, as both a pulpit and a personal Bible.

Despite the increasingly old-fashioned character of its language, it was not until the 1950s that a second translation, the Revised Standard Version, gained a foothold in American Protestantism.

Today, the King James Bible, also known as the KJB or KJV (the “V” is for “Version”), still has a revered place among Evangelical Protestantism. The Scofield Reference Bible, widely used among Evangelicals, relies upon it. And although the New International Version has recently gained popularity as a personal Bible, the KJB remains the pulpit Bible for many churches.

Of course, the Gideons continue to place a copy of the KJB in every hotel room in the United States. They believe that an individual alone can read the Bible and by themselves gain an understanding of God.

This attitude derives from the sixteenth-century declaration by the Reformer Martin Luther that the authority for true Christianity rested on “Scripture alone.” Since that time, Protestantism has envisioned each individual believer knowing the Bible. The ideal Christian became someone who read and studied their Bible extensively. Today, most devout Christians own a personal Bible, which they read regularly by themselves.

The achievement of this ideal within modern Evangelicalism has made us forget that for most of Christianity’s history, this ideal was impossible for all but a few. During 95% of its history, the overwhelming majority of Christians could not read.

Until the twentieth century, near universal literacy existed nowhere on earth. Only then, in Europe, did 90% of adults acquire the ability to read. In 1675, 64 years after the KJV’s publication, only about 45% of adult males in England could sign their name at their marriage; for women the percentage was significantly lower. Even in 1850, the best estimates put adult literacy in Europe at no more than 50%. American literacy rates were similar.During most of its history, then, the KJV functioned quite differently from the personal, private use so widespread today. When it was published, it was intended to be read aloud, and that was its primary use until the end of the nineteenth century.

People who can read the Bible gain a sense of its organization as a text and of its character as a physical object. They know how large it is, whether considered in number of words (lots), number of books (66), or just its size (fat). Those who become familiar with it learn the order of its books and develop a sense of the total amount of stories, moral tales, parables, law codes, admonitions and prophecies the book contains.

Those who only hear the Bible read and cannot read it for themselves learn about much of it contents, but they never gain a sense of the book as a written text. Because they are always dependent on a reader, they never acquire any direct access to the text itself.

They know its contents as the material is read to them over the years, in whatever order it is read and whatever passages are selected. They may develop a sense of organization from some of its longer stories, but most oral readings present shorter passages. Just reading a few chapters out loud can take nearly an hour. Hearers will not gain understanding of the Bible’s structure; it will seem an unorganized  collection to them.

Moreover, hearers will rarely gain a sense that they know everything in the Bible. They can always be surprised by some passage they have not heard before. Although many churches have a liturgical calendar that guides regular scripture reading, such calendars present selected readings rather than the entire Bible.

Furthermore, liturgical calendars often feature different readings from different places in Scripture together. The Anglican approach for each Sunday includes an Old Testament passage, a reading from the New Testament letters, and a selection from the Gospels.

So until the twentieth century, the success of the King James Bible came much more from its use for oral presentation of Scripture than from its use as a personal Bible. This is not surprising, for the poetic beauty of much of its language was intended to be heard. The oral hearing of the Bible gave Christians a different sense of Scripture from individual private reading. It is only by the mid-twentieth century, when most Christians can read the Bible by themselves, that a translation whose language is more up-to-date can make headway against the long-standing popularity of the KJB.

 Paul V.M. Flesher, Ph.D. is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition is on view at UW from October 7-31, 2012.

The KJB in America: An Interview with Cristina Cruz Gonzales

The Holy Bible: the Entire Canonical Scriptures According to the Decree of the Council of Trent; Translated from the Latin Vulgate. ca. 1884. Loan of the Ryan family. Image courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

The Holy Bible: the Entire Canonical Scriptures According to the Decree of the Council of Trent; Translated from the Latin Vulgate. ca. 1884. Loan of the Ryan family. Image courtesy of Oklahoma State University.

While the Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition was at Oklahoma State University, local scholars presented on topics related to the King James Bible and its impact on American culture. Dr. Cristina Cruz Gonzales, OSU assistant professor of art history, provided the opening lecture. After her talk, “King James Bible: Towards a Visual and Transatlantic History,” she shared her insights about the KJB and America.  Here’s a recap of the interview.

Why were you interested in joining us to talk on this topic?

Because I’m not an English Bible expert, but I am an expert in 17th century religious material in America, not the United States, but rather Spanish America. The topic seemed strangely familiar. I didn’t know much about it, but I wanted to know more. It seemed that I should know more, and I thought I could approach it in a comparative way that I found fruitful for both myself and the audience.

 Did you learn anything surprising as you researched this talk?

Absolutely. I had no idea the author of our American dictionary, that’s Noah Webster, was also an author of an American Bible, and he really pushed his Bible project on an America that was just starting to get into a sort of Bible mania.

You told us about a number of different versions of the Bible. Which one did you find most interesting?

I really enjoy the 19th century versions, these large, lavish, family Bibles mostly because you realize it’s not just about text, but about the materiality and the object-ness of these items. They were kept in American homes on tables as showpieces, so they are not just informing American piety or serving American piety at that time, but also reflecting American taste and what that implies in a secular and non-secular way.

You mentioned a number of Bibles that are arguably more American than the King James. Why does KJB remain the most popular in the US?

The King James Bible was by far the most popular Bible in the late 17th century, and I think that longevity means a lot. If Noah Webster had been born a century earlier and had this wonderful idea and the American Revolution had broken out and it was time to publish an American Bible, maybe his Bible would have taken off. But, by the time Webster comes around, the King James Version is too engrained in early American culture, and Americans aren’t going to give it up.

Misty D. Smith is an Assisstant Professor and Catalog Librarian at the Edmon Low Library, Oklahoma State University.

King James and His Bible

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608. Shelfmark V.b.232. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Thomas Trevelyon. Miscellany. Manuscript, 1608. Shelfmark V.b.232. Folger Shakespeare Library.

King James I, the royal sponsor of the Bible that bears his name, grew up as a king. After Queen Elizabeth I executed his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, when he was just one year old, he became King of Scotland and the heir to the English throne after Elizabeth’s death. He was raised by a team of Scottish Presbyterian ministers under the control of his regent, but upon his ascension to the English crown in 1603, he seemed more attuned to English religious politics.

Less than a year after his arrival in England, James officially launched the translation project that would become the King James Bible at a conference in Hampton Court Palace. The complex’s status as a favorite dwelling of King Henry the VIII, the founder of the English church, would not have been lost on the attendees.

The new translation was intended to be a unifying factor, not between Scotland and England, but between the warring factions of the Church of England. In the oversight of the project, James favored the establishment bishops, but a third or more of the 48 “Translators” (as they were known) had Puritan beliefs. Most were connected with Cambridge University, a hot-bed of Puritan theology.

The most popular Bible among English Christians at the time was the Geneva Bible, which Puritan scholars had composed in Geneva during their exile from the persecution of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) in the 1550s. Its popularity had soared at the end of the sixteenth century because the Bishops Bible of 1568, the Church’s official Bible, had met with derision, As Adam Nicholson observes, it was “pompous, obscure and often laughable.” Instead of the well-known phrase “Caste thy bread upon the waters,” for instance, it gave “Lay thy bread upon wet faces.”

But James could not simply follow the people’s choice, for the Geneva Bible contained extensive interpretive footnotes, many of which were anti-monarchical, denying that kings and queens had the right to rule. Given that in 1598 James had written a ringing defense of the “divine right of kings” to govern in his “True Law of Free Monarchies,” this was an anathema.

The new Bible translation would draw upon the best of these two works, while going back to the best Hebrew and Greek manuscripts then available. It would undergo several stages of review to ensure both accuracy and understandability. It would be both a pulpit Bible and a people’s Bible: pleasant to read aloud and to oneself.

The new translation did not immediately gain acceptance when it was published in 1611. Like the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate and many modern translations, people preferred the versions with which they were familiar. But within a few decades it had replaced the Bishops Bible and surpassed the Geneva Bible. It was brought across the Atlantic and became America’s Bible, both for English churches that came here and the churches that originated here, such as the Mormons.

The King James Version was the dominant English-language Bible for 350 years and had no significant rivals until the Revised Standard Version appeared in the 1950s. Since then, many new translations have been published, but the KJV remains the most popular book in the English language.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV, the University of Wyoming is hosting an exhibit and series of six lectures during October. It will open on Sunday afternoon, October 7th, with a talk by Dr. Philip Stine, a former translator and executive of the United Bible Societies, who will discuss the origins and impact of the KJV.

The exhibit is called “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible,” and is located in Coe Library. It was created by the Folger Shakespeare Library , in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Harry Ransom Center, and with support from the National Endowment of the Humanities and the American Library Association.

To accompany this, the Toppan Library of the American Heritage Center is exhibiting Bibles from its rare books collection, and the Albany Country Public Library is hosting a display of Bible translations through the ages. For more information, go to

Note: This post drew from Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, and Philip C. Stine, Four Hundred Years on the Best Seller List.

Paul V.M. Flesher, Ph.D. is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wyoming. The Manifold Greatness traveling exhibition is on view at UW from October 7-31, 2012.

Before the KJB: The Coverdale Bible

A passage from the book of Job in the Coverdale Bible, 1535. Image courtesy of the University of Dayton.

A passage from the book of Job in the Coverdale Bible, 1535. Image courtesy of the University of Dayton.

After opening our local Manifold Greatness exhibition on August 24, we were contacted by a local collector, Stuart Rose, who offered to lend to us his first edition Coverdale Bible.  The Coverdale Bible was printed in 1535 and is the first complete English Bible ever printed, as well as the first full Bible in modern English.

We removed the 1838 reprint edition that we had planned to show for the exhibition, featured in our case of early translations of the Bible, and replaced it with the real thing. The following information is from the Sotheby’s catalog listing for this particular book.

BIBLIA: The Bible, that is, the holy Scripture of the Olde and New Testament. 1535. First Edition in English of the Complete Bible, 307 x 197 mm. Handsome 19th century morroco gilt by Francis Bedford. The Earl of Crawford-John William Pease-Lord Wardington Copy.

Such copies of the Coverdale Bible have appeared for sale in the past 50 years are invariably incomplete. This copy is in fact one of the most complete copies offered during this time period — lacking only one leaf of text proper (the other lacking leaves being prelims).

The Coverdale Bible is much rarer than the first printing of the 1611 King James Bible and is known to be 3 or 4 times rarer than the First Folio of Shakespeare. University of Dayton Libraries is excited to present this rare and magnificent book. Special thanks to Mr. Stuart Rose for sharing this  early translation with Manifold Greatness visitors.

 Katy Kelly is communications and outreach librarian at University of Dayton Libraries and project director for the University of Dayton Manifold Greatness exhibit.

A Tale of Two Bibles

First edition of the Douai-Rheims Bible. Photo by Lisa Powerll. Image courtesy of the University of Dayton.

First edition of the Douai-Rheims Bible. Photo by Lisa Powell. Image courtesy of the Dayton Daily News.

Manifold Greatness opened at the University of Dayton Roesch Library in Dayton, Ohio on Friday, August 24. One of the highlights of our local exhibition is a first edition Douai-Rheims Bible, the first English translation of the Catholic Bible. For the exhibit period, it is sharing a case with a first edition King James Bible, on loan from Denison University in Granville, Ohio.

In this post, we compare the two Bibles and their unique history.

The origins of the Douai-Rheims translation were much different than the KJV. Due to anti-Catholic legislation and persecution during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (a Protestant), English Catholics, led by William Allen, established a college and a mission seminary in Douai (Flanders) in 1568 and later at Rheims (France). The translation by English Catholics, known as Douai-Rheims, was published in several parts: at Rheims, the New Testament was published in 1582, and in 1609 the Old Testament was published in two volumes at Douai. The Douai-Rheims was not intended for use at Catholic liturgical services (where the language was Latin), although it did meet many needs. English Catholics could read it instead of Protestant English translations, and Catholic writers could use it to counter or refute Protestant adversaries who often quoted Scripture as part of their arguments.

The Douai-Rheims was scrupulously faithful to the Latin Vulgate, the translation made by St. Jerome in the fourth century. In the sixteenth century, the Council of Trent considered Latin a quasi-sacral language: it was the lingua franca, for more than thirteen centuries, in all churches, monasteries, and councils; for all services, theological discourse, and biblical commentaries. The King James Bible translation relied upon original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts rather than the Vulgate, and freely incorporated a “few dignified or felicitous phrases” from previous translations, including the Douai-Rheims.

At the time of its introduction, the King James Bible was not universally accepted; some desired a more literal translation. However, its language was incorporated in the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church, and it eventually became widely known as the Authorized Version in England – one that had the approval of its royal sponsor, King James I, and was “appointed to be read in churches.”

Katy Kelly is the Communications and Outreach Librarian at the University of Dayton.

Looking Back on the King James Bible

Members of the King James Choir perform as part of the “Manifold Greatness” programming at Sumter County Library. Photo courtesy Sumter County Library.

After an educational and entertaining series of programs at the Sumter County Library, the traveling exhibition for Manifold Greatness has moved to the next destination. During its display at the library patrons attended scholarly lectures, a King James Bible Quiz, a documentary film presentation, an art show and a King James Choir concert.

Seven local artists submitted works for the “Expressions” Art Show. Each piece drew inspiration from a passage in the King James Bible. Four local artists judged the gallery displayed in our Main Meeting Room. A Grand Prize overall winner and 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners were announced for those 18 and older and 17 and younger. Linda Hogon and Josie Holler won the grand prize, an Amazon Kindle, for their quilt inspired by the Book of Isaiah.

Submissions to the “Expressions” Art Show at Sumter County Library. Photo courtesy of Sumter County Library.

Soulful selections of music inspired by the King James Bible were sung by a King James Choir at Patriot Hall, a local concert hall in the historic neighborhoods of downtown Sumter. Led by Jacquetta Boone, the choir consisted of local talent ages 7 and up who inspired the audience with their performance. Tiger Productions Choir from Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina opened the concert.

On Thursday, August 9th, the Sumter County Library wrapped up the Manifold Greatness exhibit with a lecture by Dr. Patrick Scott of the University of South Carolina – Columbia. For many years, Dr. Scott oversaw the Rare Books collection at the University. Luckily for everyone in attendance that evening, Dr. Scott brought a 1611 King James Bible for display. Patrons were thrilled to experience such a historical text in person. In addition to the 1611 Bible, Dr. Scott distributed reproductions of pages from a historic King James Bible for everyone in attendance. These keepsakes provided material to ponder as Dr. Scott lectured on the formation and development of the King James Bible.

We thank Ms. Deloris Pringle for submitting the grant application on behalf of the Sumter County Library as well as our local partners the Sumter County Cultural Commission and the Sumter County Museum, which loaned historic family Bibles for display.

Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible traveling exhibition was an intellectually stimulating and thought provoking presentation, affording Sumter County the ability to think and speak in a new light about such a historic text.

To see our pictures and videos from the event, please visit our Photobucket and YouTube accounts.

Ford Simmons is the Reference and Information Services Coordinator/Webmaster at Sumter County Library.

Building the Bible by Hand

Detail of the 2nd page of Genesis from the King James Bible, handset in re-created type. Photo courtesy of Stan Nelson.

Detail of the 2nd page of Genesis from the King James Bible, handset in re-created type. Photo courtesy of Stan Nelson.

As part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible in 2011, the library at Norwich Cathedral in Norwich, England prepared an exhibition. During this exhibition, they planned to conduct demonstrations of letterpress printing, the method used to print the first editions of the King James Bible in 1611.

In order to do the demonstrations, the library at Norwich needed authentic type of the kind used 400 years ago. The librarian there, the Rev. Peter Doll, contacted me because he didn’t know of anyone who could find/make all of the letters needed to re-set these pages.  I am presently one of the few practicing punchcutters in the world.

For this project, we decided to make type forms of the first two pages of the book of Genesis.

In order to make the forms, I enlarged digital scans of pages from the original 1611 edition of the King James Bible until they were exactly the correct size. I then compared the founts (fonts) with a variety of type specimens to determine which kinds of type had been used in 1611.

I quickly determined that some of the type was made from the matrices of Francois Guyot, a Flemish typefounder. Other founts were ‘Garamond,’ named after another 16th century punchcutter and still seen in many word processing programs today. A few lines remain unidentified, but are close to Garamond’s types.  The black letter fount (also known as Old English) is a widely-used design that originated in Paris in the 15th century and continued to be used through the 18th century.

These formes presented a challenge as they would require the acquisition of actual, three-dimensional metal types in the correct type designs–Goyot, Garamond, and black letter–that were used by the London printer, Robert Barker, 400 years ago.  Finding authentic types would have been a demanding task a century ago, when letterpress was ‘king’, but today, commercial typefounding resources are nearly gone.  The solution to getting the correct printing letter was a collaboration between members of the American Typecasting Fellowship, a loose organization of amateur type founders who have worked to preserve antique type making materials. These type makers provided a great deal of the types needed.

Matrices for the black letter survive in several museums, but were not available for casting. For black letter, a modern re-cutting provided the ‘bare bones.’ The Guyot types are not extant.  Modern recuttings of many versions of Garamond exist and could be used on this project. But all of these designs would have to be specially cast for these pages, and many sorts had to be purpose made.

Of course, some printing types simply cannot be found outside of a few European museums.  For example there are the old, long s characters that look like f’s. Some of these were custom made with a pantographic engraver.  Also, Barker’s King James Bible used numbers that do not exist today.  These sorts were engraved by hand, in steel, and used to make the dies (matrices) from which types were cast by hand in a specially fitted early style type mould – just as the original types were manufactured.

Cast sorts with brass German mould used in re-creating type from the 1611 printing of the King James Bible. Photo courtesy of Stan Nelson.

I made twenty of the special characters primarily by engraving original punches in steel, from which special dies were stamped and the types cast in hand held moulds. These are the oldest techniques for type making, a subject that has been the focus of much of my work. While all of the text fount could have been hand made, time constraints made this impractical. But great care was taken to make the pages very authentic, such as hand casting special spacing pieces for the project and completely eliminating any modern materials.

A friend and fellow type maker, Mike Anderson used his engraving machine to cut some of the needed letters in brass plate, from which types could be cast. Rich Hopkins and Bill Riese, also experienced casters, made various founts of the Garamond.  Some of these had to be altered by hand engraving to make the letters more like the original.

Jim Walczak used his Monotype caster to make the bulk of the black letter fount using modern matrices of a design that is extremely close to the original fount, with the exception of the capitals and some of the lower case. Instead of the modern body size this large fount was cast on the slightly smaller body, seen in the original fount, so that the pages match the original line for line. Jim also made some of the Garamond types.

Type setting of the first two pages of Genesis proceeded in the traditional manner, letter by letter, line by line, taking special care not to use any anachronistic materials.  Special spacing was cast in order to avoid using distinctively modern hollow spaces.

The insistence upon using actual metal type, instead of a plastic photo-polymer plate, rests in its role as a teaching tool.  In this digital age, most people have lost touch with the work of previous centuries.  They deserve an opportunity to understand and appreciate the processes and skills employed by printers of the past.

The pages traveled to England in specially made cases, designed to prevent any accidents. My biggest concern was with the customs agents — known for damaging curiosity.  I put photos of the contents on the outside and special handling instructions to these officials, in hopes that they wouldn’t drop my type on the floor. Both pages arrived safely.

I later traveled to Norwich for the opening of the exhibit and to present three lectures about the project. The type formes remain in the library’s collection, to be used as reference objects for years to come.

Stan Nelson is a master typographer and a scholar on the history of type. He is also a practicing punchcutter.


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