Glimpse: Two Vintage KJVs

Over the summer, my wife and I moved into a new house -- really, an old house -- and I've set up a permanent photo studio in the basement, which means it's easier than ever to snap pictures of Bibles. Who benefits? You do! I'm inaugurating a new feature, 'eye candy' with a twist. I'm calling this category Glimpse, because I'll use it to share volumes I don't plan to review in full, but would like to do a bit more with than just post a random photo. Vintage KJVs - Side by Side Above: Two vintage Bibles, side by side, representing the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth.

We'll begin with a couple of vintage KJVs. A reader was kind enough to send me a box of various editions, including this pair of compact Bibles. One is a hardback Cambridge edition dated 1870 on the title page, which originally came with a clasp (now missing) to keep it closed, and the other is a very limp Oxford Self-Pronouncing Bible ("Brevier 16mo Black-face") inscribed 1936 inside the cover.

1870s Cambridge KJV - Title Page

1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing KJV - Title Page
Above: The title pages. On top, the 1870 Cambridge, and below the 1930s Oxford.

The 1870 Cambridge KJV
Let's start with the nineteenth-century edition. This Cambridge measures 6.75 in. x 4.75 in. x 1.5 in., which is a great size. It's marked "Pearl 8vo. with refs." inside, and as you can see from the page spread below, that means very tiny type set in double columns and references on the inside and outside margin of each page. The hardback boards are decorated and edged in metal -- brass, I think. Originally, a clasp would have held the Bible closed. A small label affixed to the inside cover reads "Watkins Binder."

1870s Cambridge KJV - Spine

1870s Cambridge KJV - Gilt Edges
Above: You can still see the hinge where the clasp would have been fitted originally.

The thing that impressed me most about this 138-year-old Bible was that it opens perfectly flat. I wouldn't want to have to read from it for any length of time -- I don't think my eyes would bear up -- but it seems to me an excellent example of the compact Bible form.

1870s Cambridge KJV - Spread

1870s Cambridge KJV - Open Flat

The 1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing Bible
The 1930s Oxford measures 6.5 inches tall by 4.5 inches wide, and about an inch thick. One of the covers has delaminated, which allows us to see inside. The outer layer of leather (morocco?) is quite thin, with a thin, flexible board reminiscent of construction paper, and an inner lining of what I'm guessing is a papery synthetic. In spite of the dryness of the leather, it remains as flexible as a contemporary Allan's binding -- I can fold it back on itself with no difficulty, and when I release, it springs back to its original shape. There is no stamp on the inside cover to indicate what the leather is. The india paper manifests some ghosting, as the photos indicate.

1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing KJV - Spine

1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing KJV - Open Flat

1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing KJV - Spread

As you can see from the page spread, this is Brevier setting without references. I'm not a big fan of self-pronouncing text, but I find this little volume quite readable. To me, it's a perfect example of what a compact Bible should be: a clear, readable typeface; uncluttered layout; limp, flexible binding; all in a discreet form factor.

This Bible is at least seventy-two years old. The Olympics today are taking place in Beijing. When this volume was inscribed, they were in Berlin. As I noted, the front cover is delaminated. So the last thing I'd want to do with this Bible is roll it up like a newspaper in my fist just to see how flexible it is.

But I did it anyway.

1930s Oxford Self-Pronouncing KJV - Newspaper Roll

Results? No problem. This septuagenarian is so supple it puts today's whippersnappers to shame.