'Rarer than a Gutenberg'... a 1782 bible brings $67,500

On Tuesday, William Bunch auctions offered an impressive selection of collectibles in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, many of them from the collection of New Jersey's Fred Peech. Some of the pieces needed restoration as a result of being kept in Peech's barn, but they were rare and valuable nevertheless.

The most attention-grabbing lot was a Robert Aitken bible. Robert Aitken was a Scottish-born Philadelphia printer who was the first to print the bible in the newly created United States of America in 1782. It is entitled as follow:

The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments: Newly translated out of the Original Tongues; and with the former Translations Diligently compared and revised. Philadelphia: Robert Aitken, 1781-82. 2 parts in one volume.

Robert Aitken Bible
The Robert Aitken Bible - very few are in private hands

It was the only bible in America's history ever to receive Congressional endorsement, but only around 10,000 were ever printed. It is now sometimes claimed to be rarer than a Gutenberg bible, as the auctioneer notes. The exact number which still survive is unknown, though no more than 10 are thought to be in private hands. There are 21 complete Gutenbergs in existence.

Given a guide price of $40,000-60,000, the Bible proved yet more impressive to bidders, whether as a landmark book or piece of Americana. The hammer came down on a price of $67,500, not including Buyer's Premium.

Bibles are naturally greatly desired by book collectors, and sometimes even as an investment. In December 2009 we had the privilege of selling the Bible that Aitken's fellow Scotsman Robert Burns leafed through shortly before his death in 1796.

Those interested in collecting valuable early Americana may be interested to know that a document signed by George Washington is currently available.


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