Wyclif's Bible
February 2, 2008 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Just ended on eBay: Auction for the Wycliffite New Testament ca. 1400. Closing bid; US $399,100.00. The seller supposedly is The Bible Museum, Inc. (according to The Little professor). More about Wycliffite editions and some choice bookbinding samples at Bridwell Library

(Since eBay listing disappear after a short period of time, will somebody create a mirror to the page, please)
posted by growabrain (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The reserve was not met… I wonder what the seller was expecting?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

(er, waves to everyone)

Here's the book in question on the seller's page, complete with (gulp) price. (Incidentally, while I pointed out the auction, I didn't i.d. the seller--one of my commenters did.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:12 PM on February 2, 2008

Wish you had posted this when I still had time to bid on it.

I'll just have to hope it's relisted.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 3:25 PM on February 2, 2008

Why would you sell something like that on eBay? Wouldn't Sotheby's make more sense?
posted by delmoi at 3:38 PM on February 2, 2008

If you read the fine print, it says "this auction is for a photo of the Wycliffite New Testament. Boy, The Bible Museum, Inc., is gonna be pissed.
posted by Doohickie at 3:52 PM on February 2, 2008

Fortunately for Wycliff, his was a hand-written translation, and copies really could get out to the masses. When William Tyndale took his translation to print, he was ratted out by Henry VIII and burned at the stake. (Of course Henry became a big proponent of English language scriptures once he was head of the church, but it had to be the Coverdale translation so the king wouldn't be seen as changing his position on Tyndale.)
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2008

Pater, I'd go halfsies with you on it. You can have it from Maundy Thursday then I'll take it at the end of Ordinary Time.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2008

Oops. Could not get out to the masses.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2008

When William Tyndale took his translation to print, he was ratted out by Henry VIII and burned at the stake.

Largely by the hand of none other than Sir Thomas More of Blessed Memory.

(This is why I dislike the passive voice.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:42 PM on February 2, 2008

posted by louche mustachio at 6:30 PM on February 2, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ebay? Yes, put me in the Soothby's crowd. Or the "donate to the British Library, because this is a priceless piece of history and how dare you keep it locked away in private hands, you greedy collector, you!" crowd.

Actually, I don't even like the BL that much (draconian photography policy, kind of unfriendly in general), but the British library is the most appropriate place I can think of for a manuscript like this. Maybe another academic library, but at the same time, I do like sources to stay in their countries of origin (even if it means I have to travel a long way to see them). Also, the BL isn't great about letting non-academics access sources, but they are better than university libraries I have dealt with.* And the BL are putting some of their finest manuscripts and books online, which is highly commendable - even if they are wasting a lot of effort animating turning pages. It's just silly.

*The National Archives are even better, but they are not set up to handle rare books in the same way the British Library is. They have the Doomsday book, but that's just on museum style display.
posted by jb at 8:28 PM on February 2, 2008

okay, so there are apparently 250 Wycliffe manuscript bibles. Which makes this less historically valuable than I had first thought. But still, it should be in a library. If I had something like this, I would donate it to a library. Maybe I would wait to my death, so I could stare at it, and sniff it (yes, manuscripts smell really nice), but then donate it. Maybe I would stipulate that they had to let non-academics see it too, without special permission. Because everyone deserves to hold and sniff old manuscripts, if they want to. Just carefully, and with nice clean hands, possibly some gloves if you have a lot of people asking for it.
posted by jb at 8:32 PM on February 2, 2008

The market for early Bibles is massively out of synch with the rest of the market for early printed books and manuscripts, because of American Evangelical money. As a point of comparison: the most important manuscript to come on the market in the last few years was an eleventh-century manuscript of Boethius, the only complete Anglo-Saxon manuscript remaining in private hands, which sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby's in 2005. This Wycliffite Bible is far, far less important -- it's basically a trophy manuscript for a wealthy Bible collector -- and certainly not worth, in scholarly terms, anything like the $2.75 million that the Bible Museum, Inc. is asking for it. If they're testing the market on Ebay, I suspect they must be pretty desperate to get it off their hands.

The history of the Bible Museum, Inc. makes interesting reading:

In 1987, the International Director of the World Bible Society, Dr Craig Lampe, decided to create a very special company. He approached his long-time friend, Dr Jonathan Byrd, and presented him the idea: to corner the market on rare and antique Bibles .. Dr Byrd had just sold off all seven of his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, and was preparing to build the largest cafeteria in the United States ..

Mmm .. finger-lickin' good!

One mystery, as I mentioned in my comment on the Little Professor's blog (*waves to thomasjwise*), is why they think it's the copy that belonged to Richard Hunne. (Hunne died in mysterious circumstances while awaiting trial for heresy in 1514, and has traditionally been claimed as an early English Protestant martyr.) But there is another Bible manuscript with a very good claim to be Hunne's copy, and I can't see anything in the Ebay description that connects this copy to Hunne.
posted by verstegan at 1:45 AM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Actually, I don't even like the BL that much .. kind of unfriendly in general ..

jb, was it something I said?
posted by verstegan at 7:42 AM on February 3, 2008

verstegen - not at all. It's just that I got used to working in a tiny county archive (tiny even by local archive standards), and the BL is a lot more impersonal - and the security guards are really grim seeming. But it's much nicer than the book-prison cum library that is the Cambridge University Library, and the lockers are much better.

I am annoyed/angered by the copyright claims they make on images without really having a solid basis for that claim - but that is something they seem to share with every archive in Britain. I understand wanting to control for-profit reproduction of images (like UMI, EEBO, etc), but most of the manuscripts and books are themselves out of copyright and making an image doesn't seem to introduce enough original thought to create a new copyright. So people should be allowed to share these images with colleagues and friends, and the world at large, if they are not making a profit. Photography is an essential research tool, especially for scholars who do not reside in the Greater London Area, and for scholars who are working on non-textual sources.

Also, the restaurant and cafe is way over-priced (even for Britain). I think the BL and the National Archives must be having a competition on who can fleece people the most on food.

But this is a bit off-topic -- back to the bible and other expensive books:

Yes, I can see that if there are 250 other copies that this one may not have any additional scholarly interest, but where it might garner more interest as a religious relict.

Do you know who bought the Boethius manuscript? Is it still in private hands?

I admit, I still can't quite conceive of such things being in private hands. I was being somewhat jokingly disparaging of it above, but really it's more of something that's just beyond my ken. My husband did inherit some 17th century books (including one printed by some guy named Verstegan - a relative, perhaps? :), but we gathered they were not particularly rare.

But it just feels different from manuscripts, and even so I feel slightly guilty that we have them. And paranoid that we won't keep them just right.
posted by jb at 10:25 AM on February 3, 2008

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