History of the Book
Mary Carpenter, Queen's University (Emerita)

From Treasures to Trash, or, the Real History of "Family Bibles"

Victorian Family Bibles are typically pictured as large, grand and golden, advertised as a “family treasure,” and displayed as testament to the family’s prosperity as well as its piety, a “treasure” in more than one sense. But scholars have typically viewed them as more like religious “trash,” their illustrations seen as largely cheap reproductions, their commentaries a collection of trivia “borrowed” from previously published commentaries, their chronologies and histories of the Jews a mass of long-discarded fictions about history. Research libraries have purposefully not collected them. Nevertheless, a large collection has recently been acquired by the Andover-Harvard Theological Library (Harvard Divinity School). I will demonstrate with illustrations from that collection the real history of Family Bibles as consumer Bibles, sold in parts to make them more affordable, marketed explicitly to the “working-class Man,” designated for the Christian family but of interest to Jewish families as well. Attention to the material format of these immensely popular Bibles places the Christian Bible in a new and productive perspective.

Cosponsored by the Victorian Literature and Culture seminar