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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday's Tip: Bible Boxes

Here's a tip for you:
I became interested in Bible Boxes while reading a ancestor's will. He left his Bible and Bible Box to his first born daughter. I am always doing research on new things, so this was no different I was intrigued and started searching.  I found photo's of these old Bible boxes and the history of them.
This is what I found along with a timeline of when Bibles were printed.
What does your ancestor's will say about their lives?

Carved Wooden Bible Box dated 1702. A Bible box is a small lockable container originally meant to store a Bible. ... They were particularly popular in the 17th century, when printed bibles were very expensive and a treasured family possession.

A Bible box is a small lockable container originally meant to store a bible.

Bible boxes were produced in materials such as wood, metal or ceramics, in simple or extremely ornate styles throughout much of Europe. They were particularly popular in the 17th century, when printed bibles were very expensive and a treasured family possession. Often a bible was the only book owned by a family, and the flyleaf and endpapers used to record important family events such as births, deaths and marriages. On a Sunday, the head of the household would open the box and take out the bible to read appropriate passages to his family.

Our Bible Box is carved on the front with four roundels, two of which contain a daisy and the other two a carnation. The date 1702 is carved in the middle. The iron fitting holding the lock mechanism has two keyholes - one in the middle and another above to the left, which shows that either the owner lost his key, or the box came into the possession of someone who didn't have the original key and a new lock and keyhole was made.

In England in 1702 King William III died and his sister-in-law, Anne Stuart, second daughter of the deposed King James II, was crowned Queen.

Early English Oak Bible Boxes
By John Fiske and Lisa Freeman

More boxes have survived from the seventeenth century than any other form of furniture. Contemporary inventories show that most households owned many of them. Like their larger cousin, the chest, they were very useful, and comparatively easy to make. Chests stored larger items, and boxes the smaller ones: almost anything that today we might stuff into a drawer would have been kept in a box -- drawers were rare until the second half of the century. Though the boxes are from the seventeenth century, the name "bible boxes" is from the nineteenth. They were obviously used to store far more than just bibles, indeed, boxes outnumbered bibles by many times.

In 1547, the inventory of King Henry VIII listed many boxes: in the closet next to his privy chamber were boxes which contained "painted antiques" (we have to wonder what an antique was in 1547!), "table men" (carved figures, or chess men), "pictures of needlework", "12 pairs of hawks' bells, small and great, and a falconer's glove", "slippers of velvet for women", "burning perfumes" and two or three containing dolls for his children. In 1598, a domestic advice book said that when a lady rides abroad, one of her serving men "is to carrie her boxe with ruffles and other accessories." The household accounts book of the Shuttleworth family of Gawthorpe showed that they bought at least three boxes between 1617 and 1621. Incidentally, we have never come across an inventory listing a bible in one of these boxes!

In New England, very similar boxes were used for similar purposes. The 17th century probate records of Essex County, Massachusetts, include references to "1 box and some small matters in it, as two small black handkerchiefs, 1 black quoife, 1 bonnet"; "Small squar boxe full of mean books"; "Little boxe with 4 shillings, 2 pence and half a crown.”

Construction and Decoration
English boxes are typically made of oak, though walnut examples can be found: American ones may be of oak, pine or maple, or of mixed woods. Boxes are typically made of boards joined by nails or pegs. Dovetailed boxes are rare, and paneled boxes rarer still. The ends of the boards sometimes have small notches chiseled out of them to prevent the wood splitting along the grain. The bases often overlap the sides and front by about an inch, and the tops are hinged by snipe, strap or butterfly hinges. All are fitted with locks -- houses in the period were much more public than today's, and personal items had to kept secure and private. Some boxes have sloping lids for writing or reading: these are usually called “desk boxes” or, in England, “slopes.” Some of them have small drawers fitted in their interiors.

The boxmakers’ guild was incorporated into the Joyners Company of London. This is somewhat surprising, since the boxes were not joined, and the quality of the carpentry is basic. The quality of a box is determined more by its carving than by any other factor, and the best of the boxmakers were skilled carvers with a vigorous sense of design.

Like most 17th century vernacular furniture, boxes were decorated with repeated, formal patterns which were adapted to fit almost any vertical surface. The decoration is usually flat-carved: the background is chiseled out and matted with a punch to contrast with the design left at the surface level. Occasionally, particularly with the trailing vine motif, the design is rounded and not left flat – a sign of quality. Lines are usually gouged with a chisel.

The decoration is conventional but not monotonous since the carving is so vigorous and free. Although the designs are formalized, each carver interpreted them freely, with the result that no two boxes have the same decoration. Among the more common motifs are lunettes, guilloches, nulling, lozenges and vine trail (see glossary below). Gadrooning and rondels are less common. One also finds abstract geometric patterns and lovely free floral or foliate designs. Initials, and particularly a date, add to the value of a box and to its attraction for collectors. American boxes were decorated with similar motifs and patterns. One difference, however, is that applied split spindles were a much more common decoration in this country than they were in England.

Restoration and Value
Common faults that detract little from value: Lost lock or hasp, hinges replaced in the eighteenth century, cleats on lid lost or replaced, reinforcing strip inside the lid, small losses or repairs to the wood (especially the corners). 
Faults that reduce value: Replaced lid or bottom, later carving, newer hinges, major restoration to the wood.

1618        Gustavus Adolphus Bible

1620        First Standard Welsh Bible

1620         After more than 65 days at sea aboard the Mayflower, the Pilgrims land on the North American continent and establish The Plymouth Colony; Harvard University owns a copy of the Geneva Bible brought to the New World by the first Pilgrims.

1624        Elzevir's First Greek Testament

1625        First Cambridge Greek Testament

1628        Geneva Triglot

1629        First Revised King James Bible printed at Cambridge; a small folio, printed in Roman Letter, distinguished by a fine copper-plate title page; carefully revised KJV, in which the inordinate use of italics was introduced.

1631        The Wicked Bible - printed in London by  “Robert Barker and assigns of John Bill,” in Octavo;  Received it’s name from the word “not” having been omitted from the Seventh Commandment (adultery); the mistake was discovered before the printing was finished, and copies exist both with and without the mistake.  Many stories revolve around this edition regarding the number of copies still in existence, and most tend to embellish rather than clarify this famous mistake.

1632        Psalms in "Scots Metre"

1633        First complete King James Bible printed in Scotland; a Roman Letter octavo published in three editions of the same date, 1633.    

1635        Second Douai Old Testament (double black line around each page)

1635       Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel of Cambridge print two quarto KJV editions, one in Black Letter the other in Roman.

1636        King James' Psalter

1637        The Religious Bible – “Because she hath been religious against me, saith the Lord.” – Jer. iv. 17.  The word religious instead of rebellious is found in this Edinburgh 8vo.

1637        First Staats-General Dutch Bible

1638        Cambridge folio edition of the KJV, by Thomas Buck and Roger Daniel, in clear but smaller Roman type, hand-ruled with red lines; text was carefully revised by Dr. Goad, Dr. Ward, Mr. Boyse, and Mr. Mead, with most of the mistakes of the 1611 KJV corrected.  “It is probably the best edition of King James’ Version ever published” according to J. R. Dore in Old Bibles, London, 1888, Second Edition.   

1640        Bay Psalm Book.  First book printed in U.S. (Massachusetts Bay Colony)

1642        First Complete Finnish Bible -  a folio, two columns to a page, illustrated with artistic woodcuts, with the title pages in neat baroque style copper engravings; translated by a committee, directly from the original languages, and compared with Luther’s translation.    

1642        Folio edition of the King James Version published at Amsterdam by “Joost Broersz, dwelling in the Pijlsteegh, in the Druckerije.”  The first of many editions (Canne’s Bibles) to originate from Amsterdam, with notes placed in order and/or a prologue written by John Canne, a prominent leader among the Brownists.             

1643        Soldier's (Cromwell) Pocket Bible

1645        Le Jay's Paris Triglot

1648        First Rumanian New Testament

1653        First Septuagint Printed in England

1655        Caedmon's Paraphrase of Genesis

1655-7    Walton's London Polyglot

1659        First Gaelic Psalter

1661        Athias Hebrew Bible

1661        John Eliot’s Indian New Testament [Wusku Wuttestamentum Nul] completed; (Cambridge) S. Green & M. Johnson. 4to;  the first New Testament printed in America; the first bible translated into the “Algonkin” [Massachusetts or Mohican language] Indian language by the man known as “the Apostle to the Indians”

1661        Leusden's Hebrew Bible

1663        Mamusse Wuneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God Naneeswe Nukkone Testament Kah Wonk Wusku Testament. (Cambridge) Samuel Green & Marmaduke Johnson; 4to; The First Bible printed in America. Eliot First Complete Indian Bible;  A few, perhaps 20 copies, were issued with an extra title page in English and with extra leaves of dedication to Charles II.  a copy sent to Charles II was received by the king “very gratiously.”

1667        First French Port Royal Version

1671        Stjernhjelm's Polyglot Gospels

1675        First Oxford Greek Testament - edited by Dr. John Fell, Dean of Oxford.

1675        First Oxford King James Bible, issued in quarto, revised by Dr. John Fell, Dean of Oxford.  The Apocrypha is printed in smaller type than the rest of the Bible.

1678        First Old Testament in Yiddish

1679        First Romansch Bible

1681        First Portuguese New Testament (O Novo Testamento : Isto he Todos os Sacro Sanctos Livros e Escritos Evangelicos e Apostolicos do Novo Concerto de noßo Fiel Senhor Salvador e Redemptor Iesu Christo), Translated by João Ferreira d’Almeida, but printed and published in Amsterdam, by Someren. (Britannica).  Three copies listed in OCLC, all in Germany. (worldcat)

1685       The Finnish Bible, Second Edition.  A publication undertaken by Bishop John Gezelius Sr. and completed by Rector Henrik Florinus.  Smaller, so “that it could be carried along on all expeditions.”  Less impressive than the First Edition of 1642, and without illustrations.  The language had been improved both in form and exactness of expression, so that it has been said of this edition “that very few countries possessed as good a version of the Bible at this time.” (Bergroth, Suomen Kirkon Historia, I, page 394.)

1685        First Irish Old Testament is published in London.

1688        First Rumanian Bible

1690        First Complete Irish Bible

1691        Gaspar Karoli edition of the New Testament in Hungarian.

1696        First Tate & Brady Psalter

A Bible box is a small container that is used to store a bible.[1] About the size of a bible, this box could be used to transport in safety what was a very costly book. Many varieties had a slanted or angled top with a lower lip, meant to hold the Bible for reading, when the box was placed on a table.[1] In a sense it then served as a portable lectern. Over the years the typical Bible box was also used or specifically built to contain writing implements such as a quill, ink pot, blotting paper and writing paper. The level or slanted surface of the box then served as a desktop, for writing as well as reading.

In much of Europe this kind of box was produced in many different materials, such as wood, metal or ceramics, in simple or extremely ornate styles. Bible boxes were popular in the 17th century. Many of the more refined examples can be found in museums.

In Colonial America, this container was produced locally in a great variety of styles and finishes, by amateurs and professionals. Just about anybody who could afford nails, a few planks of wood, and a hammer could improvise a Bible box.

The term "Bible box" is sometimes wrongly used in the United States to qualify antique objects which are in fact simple portable desks with no biblical connection. A more modern, cheaper and more portable version of the bible box is the bible case.
  • Aronson, Joseph. The Encyclopedia of Furniture. 3rd ed. New York: Crown Publishers, 1966.
  • Gloag, John. A Complete Dictionary of Furniture. Woodstock, N.Y. : Overlook Press, 1991.
  • Nutting, Wallace. Furniture Treasury. New York: Macmillan publishing, 1963.

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