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I Found It in Special Collections: 1611 King James Bible

Sep 27, 2012 by Alena McNamara

Even after three years of working in Special Collections, the rare book stacks can still surprise me. A couple of weeks ago, that surprise took the form of a King James Bible from 1611—the first year that this translation was printed.title page

In seventeenth century England, booksellers had a large and complicated role in the book trade, including what we might now call publishing. These booksellers organized in a group, the Stationers’ Guild, which still exists today. For a fee, the Stationers’ Guild would record that you possessed a certain text, or “copy”, and thus had the right to print it. However, some perennial bestsellers were reserved for the highest members of the guild to print, since they were a sure source of income. These books, the “English Stock”, included almanacs and most Bibles.

The King James Bible, on the other hand, was printed by Robert Barker, who held the office of King’s Printer. This was also a lucrative position, as it meant that he got all the profit from the printing jobs ordered by the King, like legal documents or, say, the new version of the Bible. Barker printed this Bible, “Newly Translated out of the Originall Greeke,” twice in 1611. We can tell there were two printings from variations in the text: mistakes in the first printing which got fixed in the second, or mistakes added during the process of printing the second run of copies. Cambridge University Press issued a list of these variations in 1909 (YE B47 v.1). Spot-checking the typos and slips proves that our copy of the King James Bible, which is missing the first half of the Old Testament but is otherwise in fairly good condition, comes from the very first printing of this important text.

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Like many items, this volume came to us as an alumnae donation. According to a sheet of paper inside the front cover, three sisters—Emily Kellogg Beach (MHC class of 1893), Grace Beach Potter (MHC class of 1900), and Lucy Beach Whittlesey—donated it in remembrance of their parents, Reverend J. Wickliffe Beach (Yale class of 1864) and Maria Talcott Beach (MHC x-class of 1858, meaning she attended Mount Holyoke but did not graduate).

Grace and Lucy both married; we have no other information about Lucy, but Grace’s biographical file indicates that she was a teacher for some time before becoming a housewife, while Emily remained unmarried and taught for the rest of her life. The surprising thing may be that Lucy did not attend Mount Holyoke, as their family was a serious legacy case. Two of the Beach sisters' aunts graduated, Elizabeth Kellogg Talcott (MHC class of 1845) and Mary Jane Talcott (MHC class of 1846), as well as—according to Grace’s account—nine of their cousins and one cousin by marriage.

Despite this wealth of information, there are gaps in our knowledge of this book. How did the Beach sisters acquire this book? Why did they decide to donate it to Mount Holyoke? We might never know, but now that it’s turned up again, at least we can start asking the questions.

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