Bible in English, 1792

New York: Hodge and Campbell, 1792

The first American edition of the English Bible was issued in 1782 by Robert Aitken in Philadelphia. The First New York editions of the Bible date from 1792 and were issued by three publishers in three different formats: one as a folio, two as quartos, and one s a duodecimo. The folio Bible described here holds pride of place among them. It is a reprint of one of the most popular Family Bibles in the eighteenth century, the Self-Interpreting Bible edited with introduction, notes, various tables, and extensive comments by John Brown (1722-87). Its New York publishers advertized it as “a genuine American edition” and “the largest and cheapest ever proposed to be printed in the United States.” A resolution adopted in April 1790 by the New York State Senate and Assembly praised them for promoting “the Industry and Manufactures of America.”

The Bible was printed between 1790 and 1792 in 40 fascicles that were to be bound together by their future owners. It was sold to subscribers at 25 cents per fascicle with a free issue for every group of 12. The names and professions of 1279 subscribers are printed at the end of the volume. The list starts with George Washington and continues in alphabetical order with masons, tailors, carpenters, shoe makers, stone-cutters, a door-opener to Congress, Supreme Court Justice John Jay, the President of Columbia College, a wheelwright and a chair maker, several printers and booksellers, the Mayor of New York, and many, many more.

To make the volume more attractive, the publishers commissioned 20 full-page illustrations from well-known American engravers such as William Rollinson (1762-1842), Amos Doolittle (1754-1822), and Cornelius Tiebout (1773-1832). Most of the engravings are signed and dated. They include the first map ever inserted in an American Bible: a representation of the Holy Land and adjacent countries engraved by Rollinson in 1790.

The frontispiece of the Bible depicts America wearing an Indian head-dress, holding in her left hand a scroll labeled “Constitution” and reaching for a large folio Bible presented by a female figure kneeling to her right. A third figure representing Liberty stands between them holding a lance topped by a Phrygian cap. In the background a classical temple has a similar representation of Liberty right above its pediment. A tablet to America’s left is engraved with the names of American political and war heroes: Washington, Franklin, Putnam, Jay, etc. The entire scene is rooted in contemporary events of paramount importance: America’s independence, gained between 1776 and 1782, the adoption of its Constitution in September 1787, and the ratification of the Constitution by the thirteen States, completed in May 1790. The symbolism of the scene would have been as clear in 1792 as it is today: ruled by the Law and guided by the Bible, the new Republic enjoys the blessings of freedom.

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