One of the rarest religious artifacts is a complete First Edition version of the King James Bible, hand-produced on an original Gutenberg type press in England in the years between 1611 and 1640.

The story of the King James Bible, and how it came to be, is probably the most fascinating, intriguing and important page of religious-based, modern-day, world history. It's so appealing, in fact, that anyone interested in collectibles, religion, religious history and historic artifacts and documents will want to have this information.


It all started way back in the 14th Century when a courageous man named John Wycliffe was chastised by the church for translating the bible into English. The year was 1384 and the Bible was securely in the hands of the church hierarchy. The Bible itself was written in Latin. The ministers and bishops read from the New Testament--in Latin!! And not one person in 1,000 understood what was being said. That was fine with the bishops who believed that their powers were directly related to their ability to control the Scriptures and, therefore, their congregations.

Then along came John Wycliffe.

John Wycliffe, was a famous scholar and he believed that the people should have knowledge of the teachings of the Bible firsthand. Wycliffe's courageous belief wasn't shared by the church. When his idea for English translation was revealed, the Church Hierarchy was appalled: "The pearl of the Gospel is trodden underfoot of swine!" they charged. Sadly, Wycliffe was ultimately condemned as a heretic for his courageous efforts on behalf of the people--and excommunicated from the church.

Religious freedom certainly has changed since then, hasn't it?

Well, things moved much more slowly in the 14th century than they do today. Several men tried and failed to produce an English Bible, but it was 140 years before the next major attempt! The next man to make an all-out effort to bring scripture in English to the people was William Tyndale in 1525.

His story is one of great passion and great personal trial. So set against a "people's bible" was the hierarchy that they literally chased Tyndale all the way out of England and through Germany to prevent its printing! Eventually he was imprisoned--and died before his Tyndale Bible was actually printed.

Tyndale's work was followed by several limited circulation, mostly inaccurate or obscure printings.

The first widely distributed English Bible was the Geneva Bible of 1560. The Geneva Bibles were printed in Switzerland and widely circulated to churches. These bibles were a good, but not great, translation --and they were very unpopular with the monarchy. You see, in the Geneva Bible, there were notes in the margins that challenged the Divine Rights of Kings--the doctrine under which the king was believed to be the direct emissary of God, and therefore his rule unquestioned.

When King James I came to power in 1603, he wanted no part of such a challenge to his power so he set out to translate and print his own modified version. In 1604, he assembled at Hampton Court, 54 of the most prominent scholars of the time from Cambridge, Oxford and Westminster Abbey. He broke them down into six groups and instructed them to restate each page and chapter of the Bible in the clearest, most objective translation possible. Then he had all groups meet together and combine all their efforts into one remarkably unified, master work.

The process of agreeing upon, completing and ultimately printing the new English Bible took seven continuous years.


The translation (from Hebrew and Greek) that these men produced was extraordinary. The King James version is used throughout the world to this day.

The First Edition of the King James Bible--the one originally printed and published in England in the year 1611, was the milestone in Christianity for the English-speaking world. It was the first time the modern Bible was read in English from the pulpit to the congregation. It had much better language and arrangement than any Protestant Bible produced before. It has endured for nearly 400 consecutive years.


The First Edition of the King James Bible wasn't meant for the masses. It was created, produced and published for distribution only to the churches throughout England.

These First Editions were known as "Pulpit Bibles." Their size was 10-1/2 x 15 inches (nearly twice the size of our current Bibles) and they sat right up on the pulpit for the

minister to read. (Collectors and scholars alike will recognize this "folio" size as unique and rare, and among the most valuable of religious artifacts.) Only a few thousand copies were actually printed. They were beautifully produced on sturdy, rich, cloth (linen) paper of a much finer quality than any that exists today.

Each piece of type used to print the King James Bible was hand-made, one letter at a time by a type foundry (little more than a slightly different kind of laborious blacksmith shop of the day). The type--actually ornate lettering of the time--was set one letter at a time in a frame called a "chase". Then each page was printed on one side, allowed to dry for an hour or two, then printed on the other side with the new "chase" of type. A typical "chase" of type weighed as much as 50 -- 100 pounds. It was a meticulous and incredibly difficult process that actually produced a handmade work of art, rather than a simple, printed page.

Because of this, no two copies of the First Edition of the King James Bible are identical. That's because different pressures, different typesetting, different spacing, different amounts of inking varied from copy to copy. And the machine it was printed on--an actual Gutenberg press--was hardly the finely tuned technological marvel that prints fine documents today!

The good news is that the quality of the paper was so fine that those pages which endure today look almost exactly as they did 400 years ago; ornately-lettered, heavy parchment with no real signs of age except for a charming "antiquing" quality the paper took on over the centuries.

The bad news for preservationists is that bookbinding in the 17th Century wasn't nearly what it is today. The cloth cover was bound to the pages by a very weak, poorly-formulated glue. Remember, these First Editions weren't published for pure display. They were "Pulpit Bibles." They were used every day and the pages were turned--and turned--and turned again. When the Bibles wore out, they were simply replaced by a later edition. Some survived in church archives; others ended up in museums. But 99% were used, worn out and probably simply discarded. (Who back then could possibly imagine their incredible value 300 or 400 years later.)

Today, Biblical scholars and dealers in religious artifacts can account for less than 100, intact, King James First Edition Bibles left on earth.

Most of the remaining First Editions are owned by The British Museum. A few are in the Biblical Museum in Jerusalem. A handful are in university libraries in the United States. There are perhaps two or three complete and perfect King James First Editions in the hands of very wealthy collectors. Ironically, only one of these is even a religious man. The King James First Edition is that desirable of a collectible prize. A complete King James First Edition Bible almost never comes up for sale! Whenever anyone wants (or needs) to sell them, they're always snapped up by dealers or insiders who don't even announce sales to the general public.

The long term value of these artifacts is undeniable: In perfect condition, one intact King James First Edition sold at auction at Sotheby's, November, 1989 for $143,000. Even

more astonishing: One-Half of an original Gutenberg Bible (in German) sold last year for $5.4 Million -- and just 13 original Gutenberg pages brought $390,000 at Sotheby's--$33,000 a page!


The predominance of Saxon words in the King James Bible is very remarkable compared to anything previously produced. As compared to Latin words, Saxon words actually constitute some 9/10 of the King James Bible. In the Lord's Prayer, no less than 59 out of 65 words are of Saxon origin. The King James Bible "handed down to the people" the rich results of nearly a century of unremitting labor in the field of biblical study. Puritan and Anglican churchmen, linguists and theologians, laymen and divines, all worked harmoniously side by side for seven continuous, uninterrupted years to produce the contents of the King James First Edition Bible.

As stated earlier, 54 of the most prominent scholars appear to have been originally selected to constitute the committee that worked indefatigably on this project. What is of more importance is that the appointment of each scholar was in no case made lightly. The utmost care and catholicity of mind was exercised in the matter. For example, Hugh Brauton, probably the greatest Hebrewist scholar of the time, was a man of such ungovernable temper and so impossible to work with, that he was not invited to work on the project.

King James organized his group of revisors into 6 basic "companies." Two of these held their meetings every week at Oxford University, two at Cambridge, and two at Westminster Abbey.

The representative of the Puritans at Hampton Court, Doctor Reynolds, one of the foremost scholars of the day, was on the Oxford committee and among his colleagues was Dr. Myles Smith, who had Hebrew at his finger's ends. He was one of the final supervisors and the author of the interesting and instructive preface to the completed work in 1611--a preface which is no longer included in today's overcrowded Bible.

The instructions King James gave to his advisors appear on the whole to have been admirably conceived. A copy of them was presented to each of the 6 companies. Here is a sample:

"Every particular man of each company is to take the same chapter or chapters: and having translated or amended them severely by himself, where he thinketh good, all to meet together, confer what they have done, and agree for their parts what shall stand.

As any one company, shall have dispatched any one book, in this manner, they shall send it to the rest to be considered seriously and judiciously, for His Majesty is very careful in this point.

If any company, upon the review of these books so sent, doubt or differ upon any place, to send them word thereof, note the place and withal send the reasons: which, if they consent not, the difference to be compounded at a general meeting, which is to be the chief persons of each company

at the end of the work.

When any place of special obscurity is doubted of, letters to be directed by authority to be sent to any learned man in the land for his judgment.

Letters to be sent from every Bishop to the rest of his clergy, admonishing them of this translation in hand, and to move and charge as many as being skillful in the tongues, and having taken pains in the kind to send these particular observations to either the company at Westminster, Cambridge, or Oxford.

These translations to be used when they agree better with the text than the Bishop's Bible, Tyndale's, Matthew's, Coverdale's, Wycliffe's, Geneva's."

It took over three years just to arrange for the payment of expenses incurred in the individual study of the text and the labors of anticipatory preparation. Three more years were spent organizing the joint work. And then nine months in a final revision in London by a representative of each of the six committees.

In 1611, the authorized King James version of the Bible (a folio volume in black-letter type) was issued to the churches. It had no notes, and the interpretation of it was, therefore, left perfectly free. It has already been translated into something like 200 different languages and dialects and no less than 3 million copies of it are now year by year poured out by the English press. In sober earnestness, you can honestly say that it's sound has gone forth into all lands, and it's words unto the ends of the world.

The King James Bible. A meticulous research, incredibly significance, and great value to anyone fortunate enough to own one of its "golden leaves".