A book that has been languishing on one of the benches in the Old Library turns out to be a fascinating copy of the “Breeches Bible” that we did not know we had! The identity of the book came to light this morning during a visit from Melvin Jefferson and Edward Cheese of the Cambridge Conservation Consortium to assess the conservation needs of several manuscripts.
As an afterthought I showed them a printed Bible which I considered to be the worst book in the Old Library because it is in such a poor condition. The Bible is bound in what remains of its original thick brown leather binding, over much worn cardboard boards. There is part of a metal clasp on the back cover and the metal fixing on the inside front cover for what must have been a boss. The volume lacks a title page and the internal pages are curled, much worn and some are torn. The opening pages of Genesis have been repaired with sellotape which has become sticky and is breaking down and causing damage to neighbouring pages. There is no class-mark in the book and there is no record of it in our card catalogue.
On closer inspection of the first page of Genesis, Edward identified it as the “Breeches Bible”, printed in Geneva in 1560! This has simultaneously solved the mystery of the existence of a separate title page from the Geneva Bible which had been mounted on board at some time in the distant past which is also housed in the Old Library. Further examination of the Bible has revealed inscriptions recording the names and birth dates of various family members from the early seventeenth century.
The Bible has now gone for conservation to remove the sellotape (although it will leave a permanent residue). We have yet to decide how to conserve this remarkable book which has had such a chequered history!