Arnold Ehlert
The Bible Collector (No. 54, April-June 1978)
(With permission of the International Society of Bible Collectors)

The Society gets many letters asking what an old Bible is worth. Almost invariably it is an old family Bible published during the 19th century. It is usually one that has been handed down by one's mother or grandmother. Our answer to these inquiries goes something like this.

There were many thousands of family Bibles published during the 19th century by many different publishers. They varied somewhat in the additional material they contained-pictures, essays, tables, geographical materials, family records, a concordance, the Psalms in meter, etc. Many of these can be identified in Margaret Hills' The English Bible in America, but the American Bible Society does not have a complete collection of all issues, and once in a while a copy turns up that is not listed. This might indicate a slightly greater value because of scarcity, but probably not much.

Edward L. Sterne wrote a book, Is My Old Book Valuable? (3rd ed., Antiques Publications, Taneytown, Maryland, 1966). In it he says, "A book can be 100 years old and have no cash value. A book can be 200 years old and have scarcely any cash value. A book can be300 years old and have only small value." He has a section on old bibles, in which he says, "It is surprising how many people wrongly believe that all old Bibles are worth a lot of money." Then he points out that nearly everyone has an old Bible, and that they are handed down from generation to generation. He points out that if antiquarian dealers could sell old Bibles they would be eager to buy them. As a matter of fact, your editor has subscribed to The Antiquarian Bookman for years, and has handled other second-hand want media as a librarian for many years also, and cannot recall having ever seen a dealer advertising for old Bibles.

Rummage sales and salvage stores often have old family Bibles, which can be bought for five or ten dollars depending on the condition. Second-hand stores often have some bibles, but one seldom finds the old family Bibles in them. Sterne mentions a Bible printed in London in 1696 that sold at auction for $20.00. One dealer in old Bibles says he would not ordinarily buy a Bible published later than 1550.

What interests the members of the Society primarily are private translations of bibles and Testaments, and even of single books. Many collect widely in this area, but of course like to find them in second-hand stores of in second-hand book catalogs, where they can be purchased usually for not too exorbitant prices. Error bibles are especially desirable items. One of the most elusive of the 20th century English Bibles is the 1911 bible, which was a slightly revised King James published by the American branch of the Oxford University Press. It was published to commemorate the tercentenary of the King James of 1611. It was revised by a committee headed by Dr. C. I. Scofield. Your editor was fortunate to find one of these in a second-hand store once for $3.00. He has seen only four copies in his lifetime. One that he would pay $100 for is the Chromatic Bible published by Eyre & Spottiswoode in London in 1906. The publishers denied that they had ever published such a Bible, but the British Museum has two copies. It is printed in eleven colors, and is describe in No. 19 of this publication.

We have a formula that satisfies no one, but pretty well indicates what that old Bible is worth: it is worth what you have to pay for it if you want it that badly; or, it is worth what you can get for it if you want to sell it that badly!

Apart from sentimental value, and the family histories that some of them contain, which may not be recorded elsewhere, a Bible is worth something or nothing depending on whether one reads it and follows its teachings.