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“The United States in Congress assembled highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion, as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied from the above report of his care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorize him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper.”

 –Congressional Resolution, September 10, 1782

 

"The Bible of the American Revolution":
First Edition of the Extraordinarily Scarce Aitken Bible,
The First American Bible, of Profound Importance in Defining the Freedom and Identity of America

The Aitken Bible: Rare 1782 First Edition

As long as the United States remained under British rule, the British government forbade the printing of Bibles in America. When the Colonies declared their independence, the importation of Bibles became restricted and by 1777 there was a severe shortage of Bibles in America. On September 11, 1777, this shortage of Bibles was brought to the attention of the Continental Congress by its chaplain, Dr. Patrick Allison. He said in his report that Bibles were urgently needed because, “the use of the Bible is so universal and its importance so great” and on Dr. Allison’s advice, Congress passed a resolution to make every attempt to import 20,000 Bibles in English “from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different parts of the Union.” The importation of Bibles soon proved to be nearly impossible and the Continental Congress had to search for another alternative to supply the population with their most important book.

On January 21, 1781, the noted colonial printer Robert Aitken petitioned Congress for both sanction and support for the production of a complete Bible for the American people and a committee was immediately formed to determine if Aitken were qualified to produce a book of such significance. Aitken’s impressive credentials (he had, among other things, been the publisher of the Journals of Congress for the first Congress and published numerous articles by Thomas Paine) convinced the committee and on September 10, 1782, a Congressional Resolution was adopted granting Aitken permission and financial support for the printing of the first edition of the first American Bible.

George Washington, one of the greatest supporters of the Aitken Bible, was so pleased with the result that he regretted that the Revolutionary troops had been disbanded before he could provide them with such an appropriate symbol of his gratitude. Writing to a friend, Washington lamented, "It would have pleased me well, if Congress had been pleased to make such an important present (a copy of the Aitken Bible) to the brave fellows, who have done so much for the security of their Country's rights and establishment."

The printing of the new Bible marked a significant moment in the history of the United States. More American versions of the Bible soon followed and, no longer subject to British editions of the Bible, the United States was, for the first time, able to fully express the freedom of religion held so dearly by the population. The Aitken Bible was championed by the people and symbolized a dramatic release from British, and indeed government control, over their right and ability to worship.

Aitken Bible: Extraordinarily rare first edition

Although 10,000 copies of the Aitken Bible were printed, the first printing is extraordinarily scarce today. 20th-century estimates place the number of extant copies between 30-40, with possibly five (certainly no more than ten) in private hands. It is one of the world’s rarest books, significantly rarer than even the Gutenberg Bible. 

(THE AITKEN BIBLE) The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments Newly translated out of the Original Tongues. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by R. Aitken, at Port’s Head, 1782. 12mo, contemporary full calf.  Please inquire. 

Extraordinarily scarce first edition, one of approximately 30 known copies (with perhaps only five in private hands), of the first English Bible printed in America, the first and only Bible ever to be printed with Congressional approval. Only the most insignificant flaws: crossed out early signature on title, small tear to title, occasional soiling; beautiful contemporary calf with only slight wear. An absolutely extraordinary copy of a most rare and important volume.

 

 

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