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1539 Great Bible – The First Edition of King Henry VIII’s Bible


  • Appraisal Value: $225,000
  • OT Title Page: 1539 FAC
  • NT Title Page: 1539 FAC
  • Place of Printing: England & Europe
  • Actual Size: 16 x 11 x 4.5
  • Font: Gothic (Black Letter)
  • End Papers: Cotton, Full Calf

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Note:  This is the 1539 first edition / first printing of the “Great Bible” of King Henry VIII.  It is widely considered to be the first English language Bible fully authorized for public use.  It is the first English language Bible of the Church of England (the Anglican Church)… their second Bible being the 1568 “Bishops Bible” of Queen Elizabeth I, and their third Bible being the famous and beloved 1611 King James Bible.  This extremely rare example is one of a little over a dozen known to be extant today.  It is offered at less than half of its appraisal value. 

The First Edition of the “Great” Bible 1539

[Bible in English.] The Byble in/ Englyshe, that is to saye the con-/ tent of all the holy scrypture, bothe/ of ye olde and newe testament, truly/ translated after the veryte of the/ Hebrue and Greke textes, by ye dy-/ lygent studye of dyuerse excellent/ learned men, expert in the forsayde/ tonges./ Prynted by Richard Grafton &/ Edward Whitchurch./ Cum priuilegio ad imprimen-/ dum solum./ 1539.

The first edition, first printing of the Miles Coverdale “Great” Bible, “the hole byble of the largest volume,” which Thomas Cromwell, as the King’s vice-regent (King Henry VIII), in an injunction to the clergy (September 1538), ordered to be set up in sum conuenient place wythin the said church that ye haue cure of, where as your parishioners may moste comodiously resorte to the same and reade it.

Collates exceptionally complete: quire * (of preliminaries) compromised with substantial chipping and repair – general title-page supplied, sized – lacks *2, first leaf of the Kalendar. [Q4], blank, excised as expected. Lacks only [Aai] (NT title-page) and [Nn8] final leaf (Table and Colophon). GGv mis-signed BBv. Mm iiii mis-signed M iiii. Woodcuts as called for.

Overall an exceptionally tall and crisp clean copy, with far less damp and other staining and repair than expected or usually encountered.

The single most important Bible of the established Church of England (the official Anglican Church) until the 1611 King James Bible. (The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer still carries forward the Coverdale Psalter of the “Great” Bible. This Bible is a revision by Miles Coverdale of the 1537 “Matthew’s” Bible (of John Rogers) which Coverdale “corrected” chiefly by the aid of Sebastian Munster’s new critical Latin from the Hebrew OT (1534/5) and employing the Erasmus new Latin NT with a glance to the Complutensian Polyglot (see Herbert, p. 25). Coverdale worked under the direct patronage of Thomas Cromwell, so this edition is sometimes nicknamed the “Cromwell Bible” – and from the Second Edition forward the “Great” Bible contained a prologue by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and is therefore sometimes nicknamed the “Cranmer Bible” (or version).

Ex-libris Zion Research Library, the A. Marguerite Smith Collection of Bibles and Related Books. Ex-Quaritch with their collation notes (matching mine) penciled on rear pastedown. (Quaritch describes this copy as better than the Rylands copy, “one of the finest in existence.”)