This leaf is from the first edition of the King James Bible, printed in 1611. The 1611 King James Bible version is not only the basis for most editions of the bible we use today, but also the first edition of the best-selling book of all time. Each leaf is a unique work of art, carefully produced with hand-crafted paper on a moveable-type printing press by the King’s Printer, Robert Barker, and bound with the directive “Appointed to be Read in Churches.”
The 1611 King James Bible version is a large folio with pages measuring approximately 11 ½ x 17 ½ inches page (357 mm x 225 mm printed text size.) Most extant copies have been trimmed to a smaller size. This edition contained a total of 738 leaves or 1476 pages. The approximate weight of this large folio is 15 pounds, depending on the binding.
Current scholars refer to it as the “He Bible” due to a typographical error found in Ruth 3:15, which reads, “He [referring to Boaz] measured sixe measures of barley and laide it on her; and he went into the citie.” The second pronoun refers to Ruth and should be she rather than he. As a result, production was halted (after an estimated 1500 copies were produced; however, only an estimated 500 copies had been released when the error was discovered) and the entire book was reprinted in 1613. The cost of printing this massive folio was so excessive that the 1613 edition did not even change the New Testament title page, which retained the 1611 date.
Most writers estimate less than 50 copies remain. However, according to a world-wide census by Dr. Donald Brake, 216 copies exist today in various states of completion (with only 28 copies in private collection). There were only five editions of the 59-line edition ever printed in folio (1611, 1613, 1617, 1634, and 1639/40.) In 1613 a smaller 72-line edition was also printed but not widely accepted and never repeated.
This leaf is printed on a fine linen-rag paper (literally from shirts), which explains why it remains in such pristine condition. On this selected leaf, a woodcut initial of the letter ___ is found. These intricate carvings were actually carved into wood in reverse and then applied in ink after the leaf had dried on both sides. The use of a catch word at the bottom of the page and/or a signature was used to collate this massive undertaking.
This 400+ year old leaf is printed in large black letter type with the chapter titles, summaries, parallel passages and marginal references in Latin-letter.A few words in Roman type are used to distinguish the helping verbs and prepositions that were added to the original Hebrew texts and Greek texts to enhance the literary fluency when translated to English. This is of critical historical importance as the innovation of using Roman type to distinguish these “helping words” added to the English translation was the thin pretext by which the Barker family was given an exclusive new patent to print all Bibles in England. The prologue summarizing each chapter is also in Roman type, indicating that it is also not part of the original scripture.
Most people are surprised to learn that no official license was ever given to this new version although the king clearly watched over it carefully. The term “Authorized Bible” took hold in England and while inaccurate, it remains widely used today. In any regard it is indeed “A Royal Monument of English Literature.”