On February 21, 1838, New York book auction house Cooley
& Bangs began a three day sale during which they offered more than 313
incunabula distributed among
Many incunables came from the collection of
George Kloss and had appeared in the London sale of his books three years
before. It is entirely possible that the 1838 sale was the first time in
America that so many incunables were offered all at once in a single auction.
One lot, number 537, "Biblia Germanica, wood cuts, 2 vol.
fol. 1490," eventually found its way to
the shelves of the Princeton University Library. Its confirmed year of arrival is 1916. Where was the Bible between 1838 and 1916?
A ten page memorandum accompanying the Bible provides some answers. Minister of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, the Rev. Dr. James Waddell Alexander (1804-1859), tells us in "Some Account of an
Old Bible in the Hands of William Scott" that in 1856 it was owned by parishioner
William Scott, who, other sources tell us, was said to be a
friend and cousin of Sir Walter Scott, as well as a trustee of New York's North
Moore Street Public School. It is
unclear how and why William Scott came to possess the Bible, but marks of both
previous owners and the book trade clearly show that the Bible belonged to
George Kloss, appeared as lot 748 in his
1835 London sale, and later appeared as lot 537 in the 1838 New York sale.
The link between William Scott and Princeton is Scott's
grandson, Laurence Hutton, who was a successful New York literary figure. Hutton relocated to Princeton in the 1890s,
one of a several like-minded literary
men who purposefully settled in town
during that decade. Hutton owned this Bible
and after he died in 1904, many of his books were shelved in the Exhibition
Room of the Library. According to a 1916 account, they were part of "the Hutton Memorial Collection, consisting of
several hundred books, autographed portraits, paintings, etc., from the library
of the late Laurence Hutton, A.M. This collection was left by Mr. Hutton to
trustees to be put in some safe place for a permanent memorial and was
presented by them to the University."
Library markings inside the Bible as well as catalogue
records show that it remained part of the Hutton Memorial until about the
1930s, at which time it was re-classified so as to become part of the general
collection of incunabula coded 'ExI.' It
remains in the 'ExI' class down to today.
The Rev. Dr. Alexander's memorandum is a remarkable document
in its own right because it gives us a sense of the state of book history
knowledge in the 19th century.
Such evidence still remains scattered among a number of sources: trade journals, such as Joseph Sabin's
American Bibliopolist; major city newspapers;
accounts published in larger works, such as Isaiah Thomas's paragraphs in
his History of Printing in America on an incunable Bible owned by the Mather family; as well as manuscripts in archives and other repositories.
A transcription of the memorandum follows:
Some Account of an Old Bible in hands of Wm
By Revd Dr. J.W. Alexander (Copy)
Another Old Bible
From time to time the newspapers give accounts of ancient
printed Bibles. Our own columns have contained numerous statements of this
kind; and we now add another, in a communication with which the Rev. Dr.
Alexander of this city has favoured us
at our request.
New York Feb. 1856
Rev. and Dear Sir.
first part of a German Bible, belonging, to a worthy member of my charge, is
probably unique in this country, and, as I observe by the books, is rare even
in Europe. As you desire information respecting it, you will allow me to add a
few statements concerning similar editions.
volume, which belongs to my esteemed friend, WM Scott Esq, has lost
three leaves, including the title page, but is otherwise in excellent
condition. It is bound in vellum, and has that remarkable brilliancy of ink,
and depth of impression, which are matter of wonder in Early printing. The
folios, (strictly so called, as that they are leaves, and not pages) are
numbered, the last being 503. It contains the first part only that is from
Genesis to Psalms, inclusively. The illuminated capitals are imitation of those
which adorned manuscripts; the gilding and colours of these are well preserved.
The coarse woodcuts are also highly coloured. The second page, or first after
the title, begins with a German version of St Jerome's Epistle to Paulines,
introductory to the historical books. In the middle parts the paper is clean,
and well kept. The exterior leaves are soiled, but here and there carefully
repaired by insertions. The names of three former possessors, are very
1. 1. In manuscript, "G.A. Michel, V.D.M."
2. 2. On a ticket, under an engraved coat of
arms "Matthias Jacob Adam Steiner."
3. 3. On a ticket, "Georgius A. Klotz M.D.
Francofurt ad Moenum." Some owners, probably more recent than any of these, but
long ago, as the faded ink shows have written the following bibliographical
notes on the inside of the first cover, and the opposite fly leaf. From
conjecture as to the age of the several entries, I arrange them thus, though
their position is different, on the pages. (Translated.) "A defective
part of a very uncommon, rare, and extremely, scarce Bible. I bought the same
in 1772 from a book peddler for 24 gr. Still it remains a treasure and ornament
of the library."
2. 2. (Same
hand.) In margin "I, 1785", and then, "It appears to be an edition of the
Bible, which on a/c of its iluminated figures was named the renowned or
princely work (das durchlauchtige work;)
and to have been printed in one thousand four hundred and eighty three, or
eighty eight. (1483 or 1488.) Compare Hageman on Translations of the SS.
page 263. Baumgartens Notices of remarkable
books PI pp
97-101. Solgen Bible PI p.9. Schwartz part II p. 199."
3. 3. (Same hand.) " Concerning a translation
of the Bible near the close of the fifteenth century, see Blaufus,
Contributions to an acquatance with rare books, Vol. 1 p. 109.
4. 4. (In another hand.) "It appears to be a
part of that rare and uncommon bible, which was printed in small-folio at
Strasburg, without the printer's house in fourteen hundred eighty five (1485.)
(In margin, "A mistake, see preceding page.") Vide Panzer, Literary
Notices of the very oldest printed German Bibles, page 71, the X. m (sic)
5. 5, (Probably the same hand as the last.)
"From Panzer's Extended description of the
oldest Augsburg Editions of the Bible, p. 29 XII, it appears that this is
certainly the first part of that German Bible which was printed at Augsburg in
fourteen hundred and ninety, (1490) by Hans Schönsperger, in small-folios. For
all the distinctive marks of this edition of Schönsperger which are there
given, correspond most exactly with this copy."
6. 6. (Another hand partly overrunning the ticket
with Steiner's name and arms.) "Panzers German Annals. T182, 285.
¶Twelfth complete German Edition of the
Bible, Augsburg, Hans Schönsperger 1490."
7. 7. (In pencil) "Wanting title page to fol 80
to 107." (which corresponds with the fact.)
From the notes it is evident that this fine old volume
though but a moiety, was considered highly valuable at least half a century
ago. Panzer, who is several times cited above, is the celebrated Bibliographer
of Nuremburg, who died in 1804, at a very great age. He devoted himself to the
subject of Bible-Editions, and made a costly collection of these, which in 1780
passed into the hands of one of the Dukes of Wurtemburg. He published (1783 and 1791). "Outlines of a
complete History of Luther's version, from, 1517- 1581." Two, at least, of
Panzer's more general works, are in the Astor Library. The vulgar error that
there was no German translation before that of Luther should be corrected. The
first that is certainly known, is that of the Vienna Library, and was made
about 1466. (Montfaucon, a/c "Bible of Every Land p. 175.) Several authorities
concur in staking the number of printed editions of the German Bible before
Luther as fourteen in High German, and three in Low German. (Pischon , Einladungs,
Schrift, & c. Berlin 1834).
To my friend and co-presbyter, Rev. Fred Steins of this
city, I am indebted for the reference to Pischon below, as also for an extract
from manuscript notes made by himself on the lectures of Professor Delbrück at
the University of Bonn, in 1827, which was thus:
There were German
Bibles before Luther, of which Panzer enumerates fourteen. From Panzen himself,
we glean the following notice; The twelfth edition Augsburg, 1490, printed by
Hans Schönperger, first part ends with Psalms, contains 503 Folios. (Annals,
Vol.1.p.182.) Before the year 1578, there were only fourteen complete
editions of the Bible in German, (p.9 & 99). Of these the first is the Mentz
Bible, 1462, by Fust and Schöffer.
The first, with date on the title, is the sixth edition, fol.
Augsburg, 1477. All these editions are described in Panzer's Annals, a work
which is in the Astor Library.
closing this dry and tedious letter, which may gratify one or two booksworms
and collectors, let me say a word or two about the inside of the volume. It
contains more than 70 woodcuts illustrative of the text, and, most significant
in respect to the arts. Each of these extends across the page, occupying about
one third of the letter press.
Supreme Being is repeatedly delineated, under the figure of an old man. The
cuts are highly colored. The patriarchs and prophets are represented in the
garb of the fifteenth century, with tight hose, and pointed shoes. Jacob's
ladder is reared beside a lake or river, with quite a swell of waves, and a boat.
Moses has the horns always accorded to him by Catholic and Medieval art. Naaman
washes in Jordan, while a German carriage and pair, with pastillion, await him
on the bank. Not far from a Gothic
Castle, Queen Esther is attended by train-bearers, with middle-age coiffure.
The pigment in every instance, is laid on boldly. In a word, the pictorial part
is precisely in the manner of a clever child, handling his first paint box.
This curious specimen of typography has now passed out of my hands, but I have
supposed that as so much is said of volumes a century younger than this, you
would have patience with some a/c of a pictorial Bible three hundred and fifty six years old. (In 1856).
I am very truly
Your friend and servant
James W. Alexander
Call number for 1856 memorandum:
C0323 Alexander Family Collection • Box 2, Folder 13
Example of illustrations:
Die Bibel. (Augsburg: Schönsperger, 1490) [ExI 5187.1490] v. 1, lvii verso - lviii recto, Exodus, chapter 9:
Plague 6. Boils
9:8 And the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh.
9:9 And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.
Plague 7. Thunder and Hail
9:18 Behold, tomorrow about this time I will cause it to rain a very grievous hail, such as hath not been in Egypt since the foundation thereof even until now.