[Bible in English.] The Old [and] The New Testament Embellished With Engravings from Pictures and Designs by the Most Eminent English Artists. Seven volumes in six. London: Printed for Thomas Macklin, by Thomas Bensley, 1800. First edition.
Folio (18 1/2” x 14 11/16”, 470mm x 373mm).
Vol. I: π-2π2 A-7E2, binder’s blank [$1; +D2; –2M]. 281 leaves, pp. [viii], . Engraved plate (frontispiece).
Vol. II: binder’s blank, π2 7F-13I2 [$1]. 240 leaves, pp. [iv], .
Vol. III: π2 †A-†8E2 [$1]. 334 leaves, pp. [iv], .
Vol. IV: π-2π2 †8F–†13G2 [$1]. 300 leaves, pp. [vi], .
Vol. V: binder’s blank, π2 ‡A-‡8S2 ‡8T2(–‡8T2) a-b2, binder’s blank [$1]. 365 leaves, pp. [iv], , [8 (subscribers list)]. Engraved plate (frontispiece).
Vol. VI: binder’s blank, π2, 68 plates, binder’s blank. 2 leaves, pp. [iv].
Bound by C. Hering, London (with a binder’s ticket on the upper fore-edge of the verso of the first free end-paper of volume I) before 1815 (Hering’s death). Bound in blue straight-grained morocco with thick gilt border, gilt roll to edges of covers, gilt inner dentelle (running round all four sides of paste-down). On the spine, six pairs of raised bands, gilt in between, gilt dashed rolls to bands and gilt either side. Title gilt in second panel, contents gilt in fourth panel, number gilt in sixth panel, publication gilt at tail. All edges gilt. Marbled end-papers. Red silk marking-ribbons.
Some rubbing to peripheries. Some corners bumped. Else fine.
Armorial bookplate of George Baird, signed “George Baird Stichill”, on the front paste-down of each volume.
Quite simply, this is the largest bible ever to have been printed by letter-press (there was a larger one printed by a queer rubber-stamp machine). The text is that of the King James version of 1611. Macklin caused a new type-face to be designed (by Joseph Jackson) and paper to be made (by Whatman’s) expressly for this edition, whose subscribers included most of the Royal Family. The text was issued in parts from 1791-1800 by Thomas Bensley, whose printing house came to include Dr. Johnson’s house. The cost to Macklin was reportedly over £30,000 (embellished, indeed). Much of the cost will have been in the production of the 70 plates, which were engraved after Reynolds, Fuseli, Cosway and others, and the design of allegorical head- and tail-pieces by Philip James de Loutherbourg. Printed in two columns in large type with generous margins, it is highly legible and quite beautiful, despite some offsetting and some foxing that appears to be endemic to the paper used. Some copies include the Apocrypha, but they were not included in the original publication; only in 1815, after Macklin’s death, were they issued.
The present item is in certain ways unusual. First, the list of subscribers follows the text rather than precedes it, as is usual (and as the signatures would suggest). Second, the text itself occupies five volumes rather than the six called for by the table of contents. Third, the sixth volume contains most of the plates en bloc, instead of having them distributed in as is usual. Thus, the set is six volumes in five, plus one. The half-title and title-page of volume six are used at the beginning of volume six (the plates), so nothing is missing. This was doubtless the preference of the original purchaser, who had it so sumptuously bound. A fourth point is the foot-notes, or rather their lack. At the lower edge of several pages foot-notes in a smaller type are to be found, commenting on the text, but nearly are cut off. Oddly, at least one page preserving a deckle edge at the bottom (5Z1 in vol. I) contains a cut-off foot-note, which appears to be unevenly inked. I find it difficult to believe that Hering or his customer would have trimmed the book, whose raison d’être, it might be said, is vastness. Was there an even larger-paper format destined, perhaps, for subscribers? Certainly some copies listed boast slightly larger dimensions than ours, though many cataloguers measure the size of the book rather than of the text-block, which is the dimension of true import. The bibliographies and library catalogues do not mention foot-notes.
George Alexander Baird, of Stichill (1861-1893), is a curious owner of this huge bible. The heir to a great coal and iron fortune built by his grandfather, Baird attended Eton for a year and Magdalene Coll. Cambridge for two, but his great interest was horse-racing. Under the name Mr. Abington (or Squire Abington), Baird was a gentleman jockey, breeder and owner. Baird’s father died in 1870, and the young lad was famously spoiled by his mother. He spent his leisure time in the stables (looking, as a Freudian would doubtless say, for a father-figure) and once he came of age used his inheritance to fund his racing and a gallant lifestyle that drew attention from the British and American press; this only intensified when he took up with actress Lillie Langtry (better known for her affair with Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales). He came to America in 1893 (it is fanciful to hope that he brought this bible with him) and fell ill while prize-fighting in New Orleans, where he died in the St. Charles Hotel. All this was followed with breathless articles in the New York Times, which make for good reading, e.g.:
At first it was believed that he was suffering from a heavy cold, which he contracted when he seconded Jim Hall in his fight with Fitzsimmons. It developed shortly into pneumonia. High fever followed, and his temperature has been as high as 106º. Two female nurses remain constantly by his side, besides his faithful valet, William Monk, and his private secretary, “Ed” Bailey. For two days now he has been delirious, and has taken scarcely any food. Whenever his valet enters the room the Squire in his delirious state jumps up and calls for his clothes, and if it were not for the valet holding him in bed he would injure himself.
New York Times, March 18, 1893 (the day of his death).
Charles Hering, the binder, was the aesthetic successor to Roger Payne, and was much patronized by the aristocracy, notably Earl Spencer. Lord Byron thought rather highly of him. An immigrant (from Göttingen, or so he claimed), Hering became the star binder of London, and the work of his house would come to be considered “one of the ‘shops where the very best work in London (and we might say in the world) is executed.’”
Marks, Judith Goldstein. “Bookbinding Practices of the Hering Family, 1794-1844” in The British Library Journal 6 (1980),