TK and her mom found this old bible, Old and New Testament, published by the NY American Bible Society, 1888. TK wants to know if it’s worth something.
Every family has such a Bible. If I had an open door policy, half of all objects in my office for a free appraisal would be these family Bibles. Most of them, because everyone has one, are worth very little, even if they appear quite old. The prime value consideration is indeed condition. And most family Bibles are NOT in good shape.
What is interesting about TK’s family Bible is the publisher: the NY American Bible Society. The very first Bible society was established in Germany by Baron Karl Hildebrand von Carstein in 1710 in Saxony. Baron Carstein was a Pietist, a very specific Christian sect, founded by this Baron. Thus, to spread the word, he published his own version of the Bible, and by the time he died at 54, he had published six million Bibles in German, Bohemian and Polish, a huge amount in the 18th century.
We may find this hard to believe today, but the Bible has had many versions, slanted various ways. Bible societies were leaders in this tradition, for the express purpose of circulating a specific set of beliefs, using the new medium of affordable book publishing. Next time you’re in a hotel room, bored, and pull out that Gideon Bible, remember Gideon is a long line in a tradition of Bible societies, although Gideon’s Bible is not directly translated.
And translation serves as the key to “interpreting” the scriptures to have them read “your way.” Note that TK’s bible says on the frontispiece “translated from the original tongues.” The translator has leeway.
One of the first translators, Jerome, in 382 AD, was commissioned by Pope Damasus to translate the various languages of the holy books known at the time, and pull them together via translation into a Bible the Pope approved of. To do so, Jerome had to translate books from Hebrew, Greek, Old Latin, Aramaic, from different origins: Alexandrian, Byzantine, Egyptian, Greek or Roman. Jerome was also the editor, and threw out what the Pope didn’t like. His Bible is written the vulgate, low Latin, which reigned until 1530, when Protestants appeared. As a reaction, the Roman Church’s Council of Trent formalized and finalized their Bible in 1564, 1100 years after Jerome’s Bible. So TK, you see your “translated” Bible has a very long tradition.
Bible societies produced sheer numbers of Bibles, and therefore TK’s has many more brothers out there in the marketplace for old books. Check out the most valuable Bibles for sale on AbeBooks if you want to see what is REALLY worth something. Condition, as stated, is important, and rare language Bibles in good condition are a real find. Those foreign language Bibles are MOST valuable.
Early missionaries translated Bibles for the peoples they called ‘neophytes.’ For example, a rare Bible published by the Jesuits for the Chinese, or those once found right here in Santa Barbara for the Native population. The Mission Archive and Library has such a Bible. But a New York Bible Society Bible is just not rare, even though it is relatively old. In addition, the leather on the cover has been worn: check the binding to make sure it is not damaged for the condition issues.
Can you picture sexy young Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum, in Paper Moon selling his door-to-door Bibles? That’s how the societies sold these, TK, and if I had to pick someone to sell me a Bible society Bible and run off with my money I'd pick Ryan O’Neal any day. In fact, the ghost of Baron Carstein has nothing on Ryan O’Neal when it comes to door-to-door Bible salesmen. A few great histories of Bible Societies in the US are indeed worth reading, so you can see how active these Societies became in the late 19th century, a time of religious fervor, especially in New York.
Thus, we’re lucky that the Bible, which has had so many disseminations, is still around. Think of all the Bible society Bibles translated by various translators since Baron Carstein in 1710. TK’s New York Bible Society was one of the largest and most productive. TK’s Bible is worth $75. Good literature has staying power, and perhaps some otherworldly help as well.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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