Every copy of a rare book has its own unique story. Our recently discovered copy of the “Breeches Bible” is no exception! As a historical artefact, it embodies a fascinating record of use (and abuse) right up to the present day. This version of the Bible was published in Geneva in 1560 and dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I. The Bible was in English (based on a careful examination of the Hebrew and Greek texts) and it became very popular in England. It was reprinted regularly, in more than 160 editions, right up to 1644.
Our copy looks a disaster on the outside! It has been used so much that it has started to disintegrate, however, therein lies its fascination. The Bible is still in its original binding (bindings were made to last in those days!) and its poor condition reveals the sixteenth-century bookbinder’s art. The cover is made of thick brown leather over cardboard boards. The leather is stamped with a decorative design in the centre, with evidence of gold-tooling, and there remains parts of the metal clasps – it was once a very handsome book!
At some time, also probably during the twentieth century, the title page (which had obviously come loose) was glued onto a wooden board and possibly varnished, in a misguided attempt to preserve it. The glue/varnish used has turned a dark brown and has bonded the page onto the wood in such a way that it is now impossible to remove it. Thus the book and its title page are forever separated. The book is now in the hands of expert conservators. Although it is impossible to reverse most of the damage, hopefully the interventions made during the twenty first century will be kinder than those of the last century!