The Largest Book Published in Colonial America

Thieleman Janszoon van Braght (1625-1664), Der Blutige Schau-Platz [The Bloody Theater]: oder Martyrer-Spiegel der Tauffs Gesiñten oder Wehrlosen-Christen, Die um des Zeugnuss Jesu ihres Seligmachers willen gelitten haben, und seynd getödtet worden, von Christi Zeit an bis auf das Jahr 1660 (Ephrata in Pensylvanien: Drucks und Verlags der Brüderschafft, 1748-1749). 2 v. in 1. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize Hamilton 26q

Bound in leather over oak boards with brass corner pieces and clasps, Der Blutige Schau-Platz was three years in the making at the Ephrata Press in the Brotherhood’s monastery located in Northern Lancaster County. The Pennsylvania Mennonites commissioned the German translation and a paper mill was built especially for the single publication. Over 1500 folio pages were printed for each volume in an edition of 1300 copies, originally priced at 20 shillings. It is considered the largest book published in Colonial America.

“Fifteen Brethren were detailed, nine of whom had their work assigned in the printing department, namely, one corrector, who was at the same time the translator, four compositors and four pressmen; the rest had their work in the paper-mill. Three years were spent on this book, though not continuously, for there was often a want of paper.”

The text is a record of Mennonite, Anabaptist, and Pietist martyrs between 1524 and 1660. Written in Dutch by Tieleman Jansz van Braght (1625-1664), a Mennonite pastor, the book chronicles the lives of over 4,000 men and women who endured torture and death for their religious beliefs.

The frontispiece scene presents an army of martyrs marching to Heaven. Sinclair Hamilton noted that the engraving, probably made in Holland, “was removed from most copies because it offended the Mennonites.”

To read the text in English, see The Bloody Theatre, or Martyrs’ Mirror, of the Defenseless Christians (Near Lampeter Square, Lancaster Co., Pa.: David Miller, 1837). Annex A 5412.205. Or read it online at