This entry consists of five articles:

The first article surveys the history of the printed Bible. The second and third articles describe the modern processes of production and manufacturing and their cost. The remaining articles deal with particular aspects of the history and composition of printed Bibles. The reproduction of the Bible prior to the invention of printing is treated in Books and Bookmaking in Antiquity and Manuscripts. For further discussion of the history of printing and the design of printed Bibles, see Chapter and Verse Divisions; Children's Bibles; Curious Bibles; Family Bible; Gutenberg, Johann Gensfleisch zum; Illustrated Bibles; Italics; Polyglot Bibles; and Scofield Reference Bibles.

The Printed Bible

The Significance of Printing.

The process of printing from movable types was developed in Mainz in the 1450s by a partnership that included Johannes Gutenberg. Among the first printed books were the forty‐two‐line Latin Bible (folio, ?Mainz, ?1455) called the “Gutenberg” or “Mazarin,” and the thirty‐six‐line Bible that may have followed it (folio, ?Mainz or Bamberg, ?1457–1461). Both books are in “gothic” or black‐letter types, in two columns, in a single size of type; they are simplifications of contemporary manuscript formats, in that they leave headings and initials for the rubricator to fill in by hand. Printing was at first seen as a means of speedy duplication, making relative cheapness possible. Later, it was understood that printing theoretically permitted a series of editions in which each copy could be identical and each edition could improve upon the previous one; but this ideal could not be fully realized until the nineteenth century. Early printers were under severe constraints: none had enough type to set up a whole Bible, so they followed a rhythm of setting and printing one “sheet” of four or eight pages, dispersing the type, and setting the next sheet. Correction took place as the sheets were printed, so that variant states of each sheet were mixed in infinite permutations through the whole edition. In keeping with the same rhythm, early edition sizes were small—normally between 250 and 1500 copies, rarely as large as 3000 or 4000. A new biblical text (e.g., Erasmus's or Luther's) was disseminated in a rapid succession of small reprints, many of which were unauthorized, since copyright protection was rudimentary; as a result, the text was quickly corrupted. While translators were alive, they could supervise corrected editions; after their death, safeguarding the text of its version of the scriptures gradually became a concern for each church. In such supervision the Vatican (from 1590) and the Lutheran church (from 1580) were pioneers.

The Fifteenth Century.

As printing spread, the international trade for the leading houses was in the Vulgate, the Bible of the European church in the language of the educated, therefore an obvious best‐seller. By the end of the century, over a hundred editions had been printed, in Germany, Switzerland, Venice, and France. Unwieldy formats and the drastically simple design originally imposed by a single size of type and primitive skills gave way to smaller formats (e.g., Froben's first octavo of 1491) and a more complex international page‐layout based on the traditional manuscript two‐column format, using two or three sizes of type, with marginal notes and ample prefatory matter (the plenus apparatus). Books were entirely reproduced from type, so the rubricator was dispensed with. For a national sale, vernacular texts were also printed: between 1466 and 1522, fourteen High German and four Low German editions, some with illustrations; Italian Bibles in Mallermi's Version from 1471; the French Bible Historiée from the early 1470s (complete in 1478); a Catalan version in 1478; portions of a Dutch Bible in 1477; Czech Bibles in 1488 and 1499. These versions all used a national variant of black‐letter, considered appropriate to the use of the vernacular; roman type was still associated with classical learning and Latin eloquence, but was also used for Italian Bibles. Printing did not reach England until 1476; since Wycliffe, English translations had been discouraged, so readers in England (essentially scholars) could use only the Vulgate, in imported copies. (see also Translations.)

Hebrew printing began in Italy before 1475; a Psalter was printed at Bologna in 1477, and a Pentateuch in 1482. The Soncino press in 1488 printed the whole Hebrew Bible with vowel points and accents. Greek‐Latin psalters were printed in Milan in 1481 and by Aldus at Venice before 1498.

The Sixteenth Century.

Renaissance scholarship and Reformation translation coincided with the great age of scholar‐printers. The new movements meant that the Bible, always a steady seller, became available in its new versions in unprecedented numbers, since it was now a burning political‐religious issue as well as an article of mass consumption. By the end of the century, literate laypeople of Reformed churches of Calvinist tendency would expect to possess a personal copy of the scriptures in English, French, or Italian: usually a handy octavo in roman type, in double‐column for compactness, with numbered verses for easy reference, with Calvinist marginal notes, “arguments” to each book, maps, diagrams, and indexes; usually with a metrical psalter bound in, and often a form of common prayer and a catechism. In territories of Lutheran tendency—the North German territories and North America—the old black‐letter continued to be used for several centuries, and the Bibles were never so portable or so adapted to study.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the black‐letter Vulgate was the staple of a popular trade dominated by Parisian printers. Scholarship and reform came mostly from elsewhere, but one Parisian (later Genevan) stands out as the greatest of all Bible printers, Robert Stephanus (Estienne). It was he who took the standard small Vulgate and first printed it in roman type (octavo, 1534); he took the device of verse numbering first used in a whole Bible by Pagnini in 1528, and applied it to the French text of Olivetan in 1553 and to the Vulgate in 1555 (see Chapter and Verse Divisions). His layout for small Bibles, in some ways traditional, was above all economical. Because he moved to Geneva in 1550 as the result of opposition from the Faculty of Paris, he transferred to Calvinist printing a repertory of skills and, basically, the fundamental design of most cheap Bibles in roman type up to recent times. Before he left Paris he had also printed in 1528, 1532, and 1540 a series of noble folio Vulgates that are among the most beautiful and original ever printed, as well as important contributions to the Latin text.

In Basel in 1516, Froben printed Erasmus's Greek‐Latin New Testament using roman for the Latin and Greek types for the first complete Greek New Testament. Aldus printed a complete Greek Bible in Venice in 1518/19 using the Septuagint and Erasmus's New Testament. Printed before Erasmus but issued later, the Complutensian Polyglot (Alcalá, 6 volumes, 1514–17, issued 1522) uses Hebrew, Greek, black‐letter, and roman types in an exceedingly complicated layout—the greatest achievement of printing thus far. It was not matched until 1569–72, by Plantin's Royal Polyglot, which uses two sizes of italic and roman, three sizes of Hebrew, and Greek, all with decorated initials, in a demonstration of the repertory of Europe's (by then) leading printer.

Luther's September and December Testaments (Wittenberg, 1522) were in a distinctively large format, in single‐column black‐letter with a characteristic arrangement of elements, including illustrations, which were at once imitated by followers and opponents. Whereas perhaps eight to ten thousand copies of the old German text had been printed since 1466, and sold at high prices, Luther's official printers at Wittenberg produced a hundred large editions of his complete Bible between 1534 and 1620—perhaps two hundred thousand copies. Another three hundred editions came from other towns. Such an output required capital; a partnership of booksellers bought the “privilege” (the sole right to sell in a defined area) and administered it until 1626.

Similar problems later affected the English Bible. Tyndale's first English New Testaments (Worms, 1526; Antwerp, 1534) would have struck the contemporary observer as obviously Lutheran because of their typography. By the time Coverdale's Bible was printed (Cologne, 1535), Luther had completed his translation, and his printers, faced with a whole Bible, were forced into a two‐column design that looked archaic; Coverdale's followed this pattern, as did “Matthew” in 1537, the first Bible printed in England. The subsequent “Great” and “Bishops' ” Bibles were also large double‐column folios in black‐letter, reflecting the desire of the authorities to provide only a lectern‐sized format, for reading in church. Meanwhile, in France, Stephanus's design in roman type was developed further, and in 1559 Barbier printed in Geneva a French octavo that gives the whole Genevan apparatus, to be repeated in countless editions—Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and especially English. When Rowland Hall printed his English Geneva Bible (quarto, Geneva, 1560), it reproduced this pattern, and rivaled official English Bibles both with a more radical text and apparatus and also an intrinsically portable, more usable commodity: a layperson's Bible for private reading and devotion, visibly more modern than the competition. The handiness of the format contributed to the popularity of the version, which went on being printed until the 1640s. The King James Version of 1611 was originally a large folio in black‐letter on the antique pattern; its commercial success was in doubt until smaller formats in roman type eliminated the disadvantage.

The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

After the great period of the sixteenth century, Bible printing dwindled into a national concern, though for a while Antwerp remained what Geneva had been—an exporter of Bibles in several languages, including the English Geneva Version. The Protestant countries now supplied themselves with their authorized version in the vernacular; in Catholic countries, the vernacular was not encouraged, and the Vulgate had been overproduced in the previous era. There are few monuments of printing skill: the London Polyglot of Roycroft (folio, 1655–7, 6 volumes) adds Arabic and Samaritan to Hebrew, Greek, and their Latin versions, and is more impressive editorially than typographically. In England, the success of the 1611 version meant that money was to be made by supplying it, and the peculiar conditions governing Bible printing led to combinations and lawsuits (see the article in this entry on Royal Printers' Patent). European wars, especially in Germany, led to economic decline, which affected standards of materials and workmanship. The major economic constraint, that even if printers had had enough type to set a whole Bible, they could not afford to keep the text, once set, for more than one impression, was met head‐on by the philanthropist Karl Hildebrand Baron von Canstein, who founded the Cansteinsche Bibelanstalt at Halle in 1710. This was a prototype Bible Society, designed to supply very cheap Bibles at no profit or even at a loss (see Bible Societies). The types of the New Testament of 1712 and the Bible of 1715 were kept standing, so that subsequent impressions could be corrected. The type was replaced when it wore out, usually after some thirty impressions. By 1803 the society had circulated three million copies of the scriptures, mostly in German. A Canstein Bible was the copy text for the Bible printed by Christoph Saur at Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1743 in twelve hundred copies—the second American Bible (the first being John Eliot's Algonquin text, printed at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1663).

The rise of the missionary movement, especially of the British and Foreign Bible Society (1804) and its daughter societies, meant that for a century or more England became the major manufacturer of Bibles, for a market once again conceived as European‐wide, and then worldwide. Effective and economical production on that scale was the consequence of technological development. (See the article in this entry on Economics.)

The Nineteenth Century.

For four hundred years, printing had changed very little, remaining a handcraft, and permitting limited economies of scale. Mechanization produced a dramatic increase of production and so remarkable cheapness for the first time, just when missionary activity and the spread of literacy opened a vast market. The invention of stereotyping, first applied to the Bible at Cambridge in 1805–6 in time to supply the British and Foreign Bible Society (BFBS), meant that type need no longer be kept standing: the whole surface of the page of type was molded, and a cast made from the mold. Later, electrotyping gave the cast plate a very hard surface, so that hundreds of thousands of copies could be printed before there were signs of wear.

Presses began to be made of iron before 1800, giving greater pressure over a wider area and more precision of register. But the revolutionary printing machine of König and Bauer and the application of steam power meant that from 1814 it was possible to print over a thousand copies an hour. By 1849 major Bible printers had converted to steam‐driven machinery. Paper had been machine‐produced since 1815, and by the 1860s wood pulp and esparto‐grass had replaced linen rag as the basis of paper. Composition of type was not mechanized until the end of the century and was not universal until this century; but since a single setting could now produce millions of copies, composition had become a minor factor. By the 1860s the Oxford University Press, the world's major manufacturer, regularly produced over a million Bibles a year, of which at least half went to the BFBS. Because of the scale of production, unit costs were minimal, and the strange monopoly situation in England was countered by the charitable activity of the BFBS and competition between the privileged presses.

Modern Times.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the ultimate development of Gutenberg's process, by which individually cast metal types were set up together to make a page, inked, and impressed onto paper. Molding the surface of the type, wrapping the paper around a reciprocating cylinder, or even running it in a continuous sheet from a roll, were just some of the developments within the process that increased speed and cheapness; mechanical composition and binding changed no basic principle. Since 1945, printing has been revolutionized, abandoning “hot metal” in favor of computerized photocomposition, so that in place of metal type photographic images of letter shapes are used. Reproduction is effected by lithography, which uses chemical reactions to transfer an ink image from a flat surface. Printing takes place on large “web‐fed” machines that print both sides of the paper at great speed, many pages at a time, so that whole “book blocks”—the printed and stacked pages—are delivered, folded, and ready for simple “casing” in an uninterrupted process. The data bank in the computer memory and associated programming facilities mean that a text of almost infinite length and complexity can be stored and printed out at will in any format that the program permits. In principle, stability of the text is guaranteed, or rather a correction facility promotes constant improvement. The Bible has ceased to be what it once was, a mountain that few printers could climb. It is now merely a long text with a number of special features. The rapid succession of popular modern versions (especially in the United States) is easily permitted, and the systematic development of a classic or authorized version is greatly facilitated. (See the article in this entry on Production and Manufacturing.)


The great age of Bible printing was the sixteenth century. Froben, Stephanus, De Tournes, Oporinus, Froschauer, Plantin—the scholar‐printers—produced typographical treatments of marked originality and beauty. Greatest of them all was Stephanus, whose Latin folio Bibles of 1532 and 1540 are the most original. Paradoxically, his introduction of verse‐numbers and roman type fixed Bible design in the classic Genevan format for centuries. Many verses are short and would not fill a whole line in a single‐column format. Over the course of an entire Bible, this would waste much space, so for economic reasons double‐column became the rule. Bibles therefore looked “like Bibles” from the late sixteenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Distinguished printers like Baskerville (Cambridge, folio, 1763) could use their own type, refine the conventions, and insist on good paper, ink, and presswork, but could not break the classic mold. During the nineteenth century the Family Bible—that mark of respectability—often incorporated engraved illustrations and encyclopedic notes; and the elaborate bindings broke away from the standard black cloth of the early publisher's bindings. The Arts and Crafts movement of the 1890s first went back behind the sixteenth century to revive the type‐designs of early printing and broke away from “Bible” typefaces. The Doves Press Bible (1903) used a mixture of old scribal and early humanist conventions to produce an eclectic result—handsome but not readable. Bruce Roger's folio lectern Bible (Oxford, 1935) modifies the classic design by using Stephanus's headings, and is worthy to stand alongside its original.

New versions in the twentieth century proclaim their newness by modifying, even rejecting, the old typography. The Library Edition of the New English Bible achieved an elegant page in a modest format. But it is the lectern bible that offers the possibility of magnificence or monumentality, and since Rogers no printer has challenged the sixteenth century.

M. H. Black

Production and Manufacturing

The production and manufacturing of a Bible, though in outline the same as that of any other book, is affected by its length (as much as five times longer than an average novel) and by the extra use it must withstand. These factors have their effect throughout the entire process.

A Bible's production may be conveniently divided into five parts: setting the type; manufacturing the paper; printing the pages; manufacturing the binding materials; and binding the pages into a single volume.

Setting the Type.

The text of a full Bible can contain over eight hundred thousand words (for the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament), and close to one million words (if the Apocrypha are added). In addition are nearly twelve hundred chapter numbers and over thirty‐one thousand verse numbers; in editions including the Apocrypha, there are almost two thousand chapters and close to forty thousand verses.

With punctuation included, any typesetting of a Bible translation requires millions of separate keyboard entries, all of which must be checked carefully. For this reason, among others, nearly all Bible translations are now prepared in electronic form. These electronic databases include not only the letters and chapter and verse numbers, but coding to specify capitalization and other special type elements. Once a database is in final form, a given version with a specific type design can be produced relatively quickly, by specifying all of the different elements and giving the instructions to the computer typesetting machine. The machine imposes the design elements on the database, sets the type to the specified width of the type column (breaking words at the ends of lines as necessary to fit), and then produces typeset pages. The typesetting for a full Bible can now be done in a few hours.

Once this typesetting is finished, a high‐contrast printout of the pages is produced on glossy paper. This reproduction proof, or “repro,” is photographed and the film is laid out in “forms” of 32‐, 48‐, 64‐, or 128‐page units. From these forms the printing plates are manufactured.

Paper Manufacture.

Because Bibles are so long, the paper used for them must be thin; but because Bibles must be able to withstand repeated use, it must be strong as well. Modern paper manufacturing has developed a sheet that is very thin, highly opaque, and strong. The paper begins as a wet pulp mixture that is poured over a moving fine wire mesh, which allows the water to run through but retains the pulp. After most of the water has been shaken free, the matted pulp is fed into a series of heated rollers that dry out the remaining water and smooth the surface of the paper. The paper is produced in a continuous roll and the rolls are shipped to the printing plant.


Most Bibles today are printed in 64‐page or 128‐page forms, to produce “signatures” of 64 pages. A 64‐page signature consists of a large sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and is then folded in half, then in half again, five times in all. This results in a packet of paper that, when fastened through the middle and trimmed around the edges, will become one 64‐page section of the finished Bible.

Most full Bibles are longer than one thousand pages, and many of the Bibles with study apparatus included can be longer than two thousand pages. Each Bible, therefore, will contain from 16 to over 30 separate 64‐page signatures. These are printed one at a time, usually on a web offset machine, which receives the paper in a continuous roll at one end, prints it on both sides simultaneously, cuts it into individual sheets, and folds it into signatures.

After all the signatures have been printed (for a large printing of a lengthy Bible this can take over a week), they are “gathered,” that is, collated in order on a gathering machine. All the gathered signatures for one book are called the “book block.” Once the signatures have been gathered, the manufacturing process differs, depending on the kind of binding that will ultimately be done.

Binding Materials.

There are three basic types of bindings: paperback, hardcover, and leather. Paperback covers are made of thick, coated paper. Hardcovers are made of “boards” (cardboard), either two or three pieces, that are covered with cloth or textured paper. Leather covers are made of a single piece of leather or leatherlike material. The leather is either the whole skin of an animal (genuine leather), leather fibers held together with a polymer bonding (bonded leather), or plastic textured to look like leather (imitation leather). The leather cover is stamped or cut (clicked) out of a larger piece, the edges are trimmed to allow them to be turned over at the corners, and the title and other designs are stamped (and sometimes outlined with metallic foil) onto the finished cover. At this point the covers are ready to be joined to the finished book blocks in the binding process.


In paperback and some hardcover Bible bindings, the book block itself is held together with glue. This is done in one of two ways: either the inner edges of the pages are trimmed and glue is applied to that edge (“perfect binding”), or notches are cut in the inner edge and glue is applied to that edge and forced into the notches (“burst binding”). The outer pages of the book block are then glued to the case of a hardcover book; the spine of the paper cover is glued to the spine of the book block.

In other hardcover bindings, and in most leather bindings, the signatures are “sewn”; that is, the pages are held together by thread that is passed through the central fold, and the book block itself is attached to a backing. The book block is then “smashed” (compressed to drive out the air between the pages), “trimmed,” and “round cornered.” The edges are sanded and burnished, and metallic foil is bonded to the edges by heat. The back of the book block is then “rounded,” or curved outward by the application of pressure to the page edges. The book block itself is then attached to the board or leather cover by gluing the endpapers to it. Leatherbound books may be bound in two ways: either “glued‐off,” as just described, or “lined‐to‐the‐edge.” Lined‐to‐the‐edge bindings are different in two respects. The cover is lined by turning the outer edges of the cover material over the lining, with a flap of the lining left at the inner edge, front and back. The flap is glued between a second piece of lining and the white endsheet attached to the book block. Then a hollow tube is glued to the spine of the book block on one side and to the cover on the other, which provides strength and flexibility to the binding. This is the most sturdy kind of binding, since the book block is attached to the leather cover over its entire surface, including the spine.

Books may be reinforced in several ways. Hardcovers and leatherbound books have a piece of woven material called “crash” glued to the spine, with flaps on either edge that are glued between the endpaper and the board. Leatherbound books may have the first and last signatures “whipstitched”: that is, the signature is stitched along the inner edge, to provide reinforcement at the hinges of the book, which receive the most wear and tear. This stitching is visible in the finished product. Some binders, instead of whipstitching, use eight pages of heavy white endsheet (instead of four pages). A piece of cambric may also be wrapped around the endpapers and first signature.

The entire process, from the beginning of composition to the delivery of finished leatherbound books, can take over a year.

Donald Kraus and Lynn Stanley


Bibles have always been an expensive commodity. As early as 1641 a London bookseller, Michael Sparke, wrote a tract entitled “Scintilla” in which he maintained that the high cost of Bibles was due to monopolies among Bible publishers (see the article in this entry on Royal Printers' Patent). Some of the factors contributing to the costs over three hundred years ago continue to operate today, making the world's most popular book also one of the most difficult and costly to produce.

Bible production presents the manufacturer with some of the most exacting and unusual challenges in the book industry. It also requires of the editorial staff rigorous quality standards that are time‐consuming and costly. The following analysis of the specialized process of creating printed Bibles will indicate why the costs remain high.

The Editorial Process.


The largest expense can be the work of translating the text. If it is to be highly accurate, this may take from several years to several decades and consume millions of dollars, though an individual occasionally may pursue this task as a hobby and a “labor of love.” (Translators have frequently volunteered their time and expertise, for example with the KJV, RSV, and NRSV.)


Computers and databases for typesetting the Bible have certainly reduced the very great amount of time ordinarily needed for composing the Bible text. Typesetting the text in various styles of type and in different sizes of page now requires hours rather than months or years. What once was costly because of the labor involved is now costly in technical equipment. Only a few typesetting companies in the world can meet the high‐volume, high‐quality demands of Bible composition at a reasonable price. Composing a basic text Bible is in itself a technically exacting task. Even more difficult is the process of composing a complex study‐Bible. Combining footnotes, commentary, and a reference system with the text while keeping all pertinent information together on the same page requires either a labor‐intensive manual process or a highly sophisticated computerized system. Either way, the expense is high.


Accuracy can be accomplished only through proofreading. The use of a master database for computer typesetting has made the tedious process of word‐for‐word proofreading optional, yet nothing has been found as reliable as the human eye and mind for guaranteeing an accurate text. Because of the quantity of information contained in a Bible and the accuracy demanded and expected in such a book, the proofreading process takes hundreds of hours and costs thousands of dollars.

Development of new materials.

Basic text Bibles will always be popular, but the most popular and bestselling editions contain some or all of the following: reference system, concordance, commentary, maps, charts, articles, dictionary, and pictures. The cost of creating, writing, and editing new materials can range from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The editorial cost of Bible creation is substantial. In general, however, it is a one‐time, fixed‐cost investment that may be spread over several printings, several years, or even several products. The editorial expense represents, however, only the first half of the Bible publishing sequence. Once the contents of the book have been determined, the actual books must then be created.

The Production Process.

The following costs vary from year to year, and are affected by inflation, labor disputes, and quality requirements. The percentage that each step in the process adds to the total cost of a Bible varies in accord with the style of binding. Each step will be described separately.


Paper that is strong, thin, lightweight, and opaque is difficult and expensive to make. The high cost of such lightweight paper, coupled with the high page count of Bibles, makes paper one of the largest factors of cost in Bible manufacturing.


High‐speed, high‐quality web presses designed to handle lightweight paper are available at only a few specialized printing houses. Printing on lightweight paper is an exacting science and art requiring skilled press operators and finely tuned machines. Such factors mean that the cost of printing a Bible exceeds by a large percentage the usual cost of printing an ordinary book.

Style Paper Printing Binding Packaging
softcover 55 20 20 5
hardcover 50 15 30 5
bonded leather 20 10 60 10
top grain leather 15 5 75 5


Binding involves both the cover‐material used for a Bible and the actual process of putting the book blocks and covers together. Some Bibles have inexpensive paper covers, others cloth or Kivar covers. The deluxe, expensive editions are bound in imitation leather or in real leather, drastically increasing the sales price. Although modern technology has to some extent replaced the skilled artisans who bound Bibles in the past, the cost of creating a beautifully bound leather Bible is still high.


Almost every Bible must be wrapped, boxed, slipcased, banded, or jacketed. These packaging items must not only be designed and printed, but some, such as a box, also must be assembled. Each of these items adds to the cost of a Bible.

The chart above indicates how the percentages of cost shift according to the nature and style of the cover.

Bruce E. Ryskamp and staff

Royal Printers' Patent

In England, the printing of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible (KJV) and the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) of 1662 is the monopoly of the Royal Printer, by virtue of a patent first granted to Christopher Barker in 1577. Only the University Presses of Cambridge and Oxford are permitted by royal charter to override this monopoly; one other publisher, originally Scottish, is an accepted interloper.

Originally the office of Royal Printer, instituted in Henry VII's reign, brought with it only the right to print statutes, proclamations, injunctions, and Acts of Parliament. The first officially sanctioned Bibles in English had the normal “privilege,” granted to whomever was the printer—the original form of copyright, which protected the printer of a single title from competition, usually in a specific territory, and for a specific term. Since the Great Bible and later the Bishops' Bible were “appointed to be read in the churches,” and the Geneva Bible, though officially disapproved, was very popular (see Translations, article on English Language), printing them became an attractive commercial enterprise; and the right to print them in various formats was shared in the 1560s and 1570s by important members of the Stationers' Company, the guild that regulated the English book trade. But during the reign of Elizabeth I, trading monopolies in various commodities were granted or sold by the Crown to deserving or rich individuals, and certain whole categories of books became the exclusive monopolies of individual printers. In 1577, Christopher Barker became Royal Printer, and the terms of his patent gave him the right to print all Bibles and Testaments whatsoever, and the BCP. This patent, renewed, was left to heirs, so it fell to Barker's son to finance the collation, revision, and printing of the KJV in 1609–11.

So sweeping a monopoly was contested by other printers, deprived of the market for the best‐selling printed book. The weakness of the royal printers' position was that the capital required to exercise their right was very large; so they were often forced to take partners, or even to lease to the company itself, which ran a cooperative part‐charitable venture called the English Stock, later the Bible Stock, which among other titles printed Bibles, by agreement (usually) with the monopolists.

By its royal charter of 1534, the University of Cambridge had acquired the perpetual right to appoint three printers, who could print “all manner of books.” The right preexisted Barker's patent, and was taken to cover Bibles, so Cambridge printed a Geneva Bible in 1591 and its first KJV in 1629. Oxford acquired a similar charter in 1636, and in the 1670s printed Bibles. During a large part of the seventeenth century, there were disputes and lawsuits between Royal Printers and Stationers about the patent but the two contestants tended to combine against the interloping universities. All the rights of all the parties were more than once pronounced valid by the courts, and accommodations followed; by the end of the century, the two universities were at times either compensated for not exercising their right, or the right was leased and farmed by the richer London printers who had control of the market. The supreme monopolist of the time was John Baskett, who bought a share of the royal printer's patent in 1710, leased the Oxford Privilege in 1711, and bought a third‐share of the similar Scottish royal printer's patent. The Baskett family remained printers until 1769, when they were bought out by Eyre and Strahan, the forebears of the later patent‐holders Eyre and Spottiswoode. After the mid eighteenth century, the position stabilized: the Stationers' Company ceased to trade; the monopoly was accepted, as was the overriding right of the universities. In Scotland, the royal printer's patent lapsed in 1839, and the right to print Bibles was subject to license by a supervising body. Scottish Bibles were not allowed south of the border until 1858, when William Collins set up an office in London and sold his product. Until then, the only permitted infringements of the monopoly were commentaries on the Bible that included the text, and the polyglots of Bagster. In particular, the British and Foreign Bible Society had had to buy its supplies from the privileged presses—though it also offered serious competition by selling at subsidized prices.

The monopoly had always been resented. It was investigated by a Parliamentary Committee in 1859–60, when the expected criticisms of principle were made. But the system was found to work well; supplies were ample, and Collins's intervention had forced prices down further. The patent was renewed in 1860, and is not now subject to review. The terms of the original patent were tested in 1961 when the New English Bible (NEB) was published by Cambridge and Oxford, who had previously financed and published the Revised Version without the opposition or participation of the royal printer. The Queen's Printer now attempted to include the NEB within the scope of the old monopoly by printing an unauthorized Gospel of John. The universities brought action for breach of copyright, and won their case. The old monopoly is now limited to the KJV and the BCP (1662) and is sometimes defended on the twin grounds that the first is perpetual Crown Copyright and the second, its use in England being required by Act of Parliament, is indeed an Act of State. The two university presses showed that the right could be operated for the public good, since for centuries Bible printing helped to provide them, as charities, with funds to finance learned publications: moreover they had, since the eighteenth century, in their own recensions of the KJV text provided standard editions of the national classic, the Bible of 1611. Stability of the text was not required or secured by the monopoly itself. With the demise of Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1990, the patent passed to Cambridge.

See also article on The Printed Bible in this entry.

M. H. Black

Red Letter Bible

A Bible or New Testament with all the words spoken by Jesus printed in red. This practice has been traced to the journalist Louis Klopsch, publisher of The Christian Herald in the late nineteenth century. Klopsch was inspired by the words of Jesus in Luke 22.20: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new testament in my blood.” Luxurious Bible manuscripts of the Middle Ages would use specially colored inks to mark chapter headings or prominent words; Codex 16 used crimson, blue, and black inks for the words of different characters. Some Red Letter Bibles print only the words of the earthly Jesus in red, leaving the words of Jesus as heard in visions (as in the books of Acts and Revelation) in black ink. Others use red ink for those sayings of God or angels in the Old Testament that have been interpreted by Christian theology as inspired by the preexistent Christ. A modern effort to determine the authentic words of Jesus on historical‐critical grounds (the Jesus Seminar) has led to the production of new Red Letter Gospel editions, beginning with Robert W. Funk, The Gospel of Mark: Red Letter Edition (1991).

Philip Sellew