Lot 46
  • 46

Bible in English, Coverdale's Version

150,000 - 250,000 USD
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  • Biblia. The Bible, That Is, the Holy Scripture of the Olde and New Testament, Faithfully and Truly Tranlsated out of Douche and Latyn in to English [?Cologne: Eucherius Cervicornus (pts. 1–2, 6) and Johannes Soter (pts. 3–5)] 4 October 1535; [Preliminaries (first quire) printed at Southwark: James Nicolson, 1535 or 1536]
  • paper, ink, leather
6 parts in one volume, folio (12 1/4 x 7 7/8 in.; 311 x 200 mm). Text in double columns, black letter (English for preliminaries, Schwabacher for the text with roman for marginalia and disputed words), general title within woodcut border attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger (McKerrow & Ferguson 31), separate titles within woodcut borders composed of eight blocks (with some repeats) for parts two (The seconde parte of the Olde Testament) and four (All the Prophetes in Englishe) of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and the New Testament, each with separate registers and foliation (as well as for the Book of Job which has a drop title), 158 woodcut illustrations made from 68 woodblocks derived from designs by Hans Sebald Beham (which first appeared in a Bible printed at Frankfurt by Christian Egenolff, 1534), woodcut and flourished gothic script initials; washed and pressed, [Maltese cross]1–6, TT5, and folding map (as usual) supplied in facsimile by John Harris, lacks final blank TT6, closed tear on [Maltese cross] 7, marginal repairs slightly affect text on EE1, LL1, TT1–4, bottom margins of f4 and G3 extended, fore-edge of e4 extended slightly affecting woodcut and side-notes, minor marginal repairs to about 120 leaves chiefly to lower right corners. Early twentieth-century crushed black morocco, spine in six compartments lettered gilt, gilt-ruled turn-ins, edges gilt; spine and board edges very lightly rubbed.


Dr. Adam Clarke, ?1762–1832 (sale, Evans 18–27 February 1833, clipping on lower flyleaf with notes by William Gott) — William Gott, ?1797–1863 (engraved armorial with motto "Nec temere | Nec timide" cut round and mounted on front pastedown, various annotations tipped to lower flyleaf) — Bernard Quaritch (collation and condition notes in pencil on lower pastedown dated 7.7.22) — John Howell Books (note in pencil by J[ohn]. R. W[indle]. dated 4/5/74 below Quaritch notes). acquisition: John Howell Books


Formatting the Word of God 8.1; STC 2063, 2063.3, or 2063.5 (none positing Marburg as a publication venue); Peter W.M. Blayney, The Stationers' Company and the Printers of London. Vol. 1 1501–1546 (2013), pp. 344–351, passim; Herbert 18; J.F. Mozley, Coverdale and His Bibles (1953); Pforzheimer 59; Price & Ryrie, pp. 57–64, passim; L.A. Sheppard, "The Printers of the Coverdale Bible," The Library, new ser. 16, 1935, pp. 280–289; A Leaf from the First Edition of the First Complete Bible in English, The Coverdale Bible, 1535; With an Historical Introduction by Allen P. Wikgren, and A Census of Copies Recorded ... (1974), no. 11

Catalogue Note

First edition of the whole Bible in English, and one of the most complete copies to appear at auction in over twenty years, with only ten leaves supplied in facsimile. The original title-page, printed in the same type as the body of the book, and its conjugate exist in only one copy, the Holkham Hall copy now at the British Library; no inner sheets of the Cologne quire are known. James Nicolson reprinted the preliminary quire, containing a dedication to Henry VIII and a flattering salutation to his "dearest just, and most virtuous wyfe, Pryncesse, Quene Anne."  To his 1537 edition of the Bible, Nicolson added a map of the Holy Land, although it has been inserted into some copies of the first edition. It survives complete in only two copies of the 1535 edition: the Jersey-Proby copy and the Gloucester Cathedral copy, both of which have a title-page dated 1536.

Many differences of opinion have surrounded the production and distribution of the Coverdale Bible. Once thought to have been printed by Christopher Froschauer at Zurich, it was assigned to Cologne printers Johannes Soter and Eucherius Cervicornus by L.A. Sheppard on the basis of the woodcut initials. Sheppard also observed that the initial sets in the main appeared exclusively in the different parts and concluded that they had been divided between Soter and Cervicornus.

Guido Latré has conjectured that Antwerp was the most likely place of publication, but his claim, as pointed out by Peter W.M. Blayney, is purely anecdotal, bearing no evidential weight. It is true that Jacob van Meteren, a merchant sympathetic to the Reformation, resided at Antwerp and was to some extent responsible for financing the translation of the book but not necessarily its publication. Van Meteren's son Emanuel, in his 1609 recollection, conflated the publication of the Coverdale Bible with that of the Great Bible of 1539, which Coverdale had revised from the Antwerp-printed "Matthew" Bible of 1537, and which was printed in Paris and London at the expense of Edward Whitchurch and Richard Grafton. Furthermore by 1535, with Tyndale having been imprisoned and van Meteren's house searched, Antwerp was no longer considered a safe haven for Protestants.

Cologne, too, experienced its share of religious intolerance. Printers like Peter Quentel, who had previously printed reformist books, now embraced anti-reformist works. Given these circumstances, Sheppard advanced that at least part of the book was printed at Cologne and part at Marburg. While it is true that Cervicornus produced books concurrently at Cologne and Marburg between 1535 and 1537, he did not matriculate at university there until November of that year, nearly a full month after the date given in the colophon (TT5v). Therefore, Blayney concludes that despite Sheppard's "ill-advised detour into Marburg," his attribution to Cervicornus and Soter of Cologne remains unaffected.  

On the title-page, Coverdale freely admits that he translated the Bible "out of Douche [German] and Latin" rather than from the Hebrew and Greek. While his prologue apologetically recognizes his linguistic limitations, it also asserts his determination to provide the best possible version of the Bible in the English vernacular. He used Tyndale as the basis for the New Testament, Pentateuch, and Jonah, and consulted the translation of the Latin Vulgate and Martin Luther's complete German translation of 1534. Other sources probably included a German translation by Ulrich Zwingli and Leo Jud, a literal translation into Latin by Santi Pagnini, and Erasmus's Latin translation of the New Testament. He was the first to introduce chapter headings, grouping them all together at the beginning of each book. He also was the first to separate the books of the Apocrypha from the canonical Old Testament and place them together before the beginning of the New Testament.  Coverdale also decided to include Baruch among the Prophets rather than in the Apocrypha, which prompted an early owner of the Ashburnham-Wardington copy to caustically to remark beside the explanatory clause "very improperly" (Sotheby's London, 12 July 2006, lot 1).