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The 1561 “Great” Bible
Truly a rarity! The "Great" Bible printed in a not-so-"great" size: measuring only 7 by 5 1/2 inches, and bound in three volumes. An exquisite binding of the smoothest and finest leather, with gold stamping. This obscure printing is the only one known to be for sale in the world.
The First Elizabethan Edition of the “Great” Bible
[Bible in English.] The Byble in Englyshe, that is to say, The contente of all the holy Scripture, both of the olde, and newe Testamente. Accordynge to the translation that is appointed to be red in the Churches. Anno. M.D.LX. [London: Jhon Cawoode, colophon dated 1561]
Small quarto. Bound in three volumes. General title-page provided in facsimile. Lacks its preliminaries. Starts on A1, incipit of Genesis. Vol. 1: A-Z8 [B1 chipped into text; B2 chipped fore-margin] Aa8 Bb8 Cc6. Vol. 1: a-r8 s1 (s1v explicit of Malachi (and OT)). Vol. 3: s2-8 t-z8 [t8 with small chip] &8 aa8 bb8 cc9 [10, a blank, excised] AA-MM8 [BB1 with short tear; EE3 with corner chip] NN6.
Modern full black morocco, gilt.
Hugely significant as the first “Great” Bible published in the fresh reign of Queen Elizabeth (accession in late 1558) -- who reversed the Counter-Reformation Catholic laws of her predecessor, her half-sister Mary, and re-established the Church of England, separate from Rome and a Protestant Church. This is the first Bible printed in England under Elizabeth and the first since 1553 (the year of the accession of Mary).
Myles Coverdale would be considered a 3 star general in God’s Army of Reformers to bring the Reformation to the Church in the 1530’s 40’s & 50’s.
Coverdale joined forces with William Tyndale after the ship carrying the great translator was sunk in a violent storm sailing from Hamburg to Antwerp. Years of work had been spent translating the Torah (Pentateuch) Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy into English which ended in the tragedy. Tyndale nearly perished with his translation; however, the event was used by God to unite Coverdale with Tyndale.
Coverdale pastored a German speaking Lutheran Church and was a devout follower of the Great German Reformer who translated the Greek Scriptures into German resulting in the German New Testament in 1522. More specifically the 1522 September New Testament was a great inspiration to Tyndale to translate the Greek text into English, 4 years later in 1526.
Tyndale followed his 1526 New Testament translation into English by undertaking the Pentateuch just as Luther had done in 1523 in the German dialect. Tyndale was always on the run with a bounty on his head if captured by the Pope’s bounty hunters.
In the late 1520’s Tyndale had succeeded in completing the Torah (Pentateuch) into English and left his Lutheran sanctuary and sailed to Antwerp to print the first 5 books of the Bible. The sinking of Tyndale’s ship with all of the sacred manuscript pages did not discourage the “Captain of the English Reformation”! With his new found assistant, Myles Coverdale, Tyndale re-translated the Pentateuch and completed the printing in 1530.
Coverdale (1488-1568) became a devoted helper to Tyndale and for nearly 40 more years was an essential aide to the establishment of the Bible in English. After Tyndale’s betrayal and incarceration Coverdale carried on the work and published the editio Princeps of the printed English Bible in 1535.
“Though his work does not rank beside Tyndale’s it was Coverdale’s glory to produce the first printed English Bible and to leave to posterity a permanent memorial of his genius in that most musical version of the Psalter which passed into the Book of Common Prayer, and has endeared itself to generations of Englishmen.” Herbert’s Historical Catalogue of printed editions of The English Bible. 1525-1961
Coverdale’s influence was recognized by Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer who collaborated to produce The Great Bible by a Royal Injunction of King Henry VIII. Coverdale did not use his 1535 English printing of the Bible but chose instead the superior workmanship of The Matthew Bible published in 1537. The Matthew’s Bible was primarily the work of William Tyndale who spent the last 500 days of his life continuing to revise his English New Testament and large portions of the Old Testament from his jail cell in the dungeon of the Castle Vilvorde outside the city of Brussels, Belgium.
By God’s grace and mercy Coverdale was the overseer of the Great Bible first printed in 1539 and followed by 6 additional printings, ending in the 7th edition in December 1541.
The great scholastic work by Francis Fry in the 1860’s describing the 1611 King James (5 issues) of the Pulpit Bible and Fry’s equally compelling work describing the 7 issues of the Great Bible (as seen here) which is a super valuable addition to any collectors of the English Bible.
Seven years before Coverdale’s death in 1568 a beautiful 3 volume Octavo of the Great Bible was published and bound in a polished leather binding. Unique to this printing in 1561 was the separation of the text into 3 parts…the Old Testament of course containing the Pentateuch and the Apocrypha as well as The New Testament. The New Testament is the labor of love by William Tyndale and whoever owns this Great Bible printing actually owns The Pentateuch by William Tyndale as well.
At present the Pentateuch from a 1549 folio printing (a reprint from the 1537 Matthew’s Bible) is offered for less than $20,000 to our subscribers and now the 1561 small quarto printing of the Great Bible in 3 volumes containing the Tyndale Pentateuch and Tyndale New Testament are offered for $40,000.
Item # GRT1561
Appraisal Value: $95,000
Sale Price: $30,000