A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book

My collecting intensified my love for early Bibles and the King James Bible is the foundation for all Bible collectors.

ARLINGTON, Va, May 2, 2011— On the 350th anniversary (1961) of the printing of the King James Bible (1611), a young accounting clerk entered a quaint bookstore in Shelbyville, Illinois with the intent to buy a new Bible. The soft spoken, enthusiastic, and well-articulated words of my mentor, Ellsworth Platt, rang loud in his ears:

“You must buy a Bible and read it every day as the Bible says, ‘So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’” (Romans 10:17) 

The bible has many different versions, each its own treasure.  But there is only one King James Version (Photo: Donald L. Brake).

The bible has many different versions, each its own treasure. But there is only one King James Version (Photo: Donald L. Brake).


The little store seemed to have a plethora of Bibles from which to choose. Modern paraphrases, American Standard Versions, Revised Standard Versions, King James Bibles, leather versions, paper backs, and hard-bound Bibles would suggest the process of selection could be a long, and even confusing search for that “right” Bible.

But, for me, the search became a thrilling adventure. 

I began the process of elimination. For the next hour, I thumbed through each Bible reading the cover jackets or box lids to see what it offered. The soft feel of the leather narrowed my choice to a full leather edition.

Now, which version should I choose? Mr. Platt recommended the King James Version with notes. I spied a Bible—a Scofield reference King James Bible. This was the one!  I carefully repacked it in the box, and took it to the counter. 

The salesperson warned, “Do you know this is a Baptist Bible?” That didn’t make much difference to me; Mr. Platt recommended it. I thanked him for his words of warning but said, “This is the one for me.”

My new King James Bible began my life-long love affair with the King James Bible. 

For the next several years, I roamed the hallowed halls of Moody Bible Institute, secreted myself in study carrels for my academic studies at Cedarville College, and completed my sacred studies at Seminary.

During these days, the King James Bible began to be supplanted by modern literal versions.

In the early seventies, my family spent several years as missionaries in Ethiopia, with the Sudan Interior Mission. I spent my time teaching in Bible schools. On one occasion, as I read from the Amharic Bible (Ethiopia’s national language), a student questioned my reading. His Bible had a different translation.

I soon found out two Ethiopian translations existed. One was a translation from the King James Bible, and the other from a modern English version.

The coup in Ethiopia in the late seventies forced us back to the U.S., where I taught the history of the Bible at Multnomah School of the Bible (now Multnomah University). My interest in the history of the Bible created a desire to begin collecting rare and historically significant ancient Bibles.

My collecting intensified my love for early Bibles, and the King James Bible is the foundation for all Bible collectors. Its melodic and rhythmic cadence places it as the most beautiful prose ever published in the English language. I was hooked.

The first edition 1611 King James Bible is perhaps, the most important Bible for anyone’s collection. I received a catalog from a California auction house in the mid-eighties that offered a 1611 first edition KJV. They estimated the sale price between $10,000 and 12,000. It’s normal for auctions to have a reserve of about 10-15%.

This KJV would not be sold for less than $8,500-9,000, a price far beyond my salary as a teacher.

Nevertheless, I wanted them to know of my interest in rare Bibles so they would send me future catalogs. I sent in a written bid of $7,000 confident, I would not be the successful bidder. Two weeks later, I received an invoice for $7,000. I was in instant shock.

I know I could not refuse the purchase, since that would ruin my reputation and others would not consider me a legitimate purchaser in the future.

With my wife’s blessing, I rounded up $7,000 and sent it along. I called the auction house and asked why they sold it at such a low bid. There were no written bids or interest in the Bible, because the description suggested there were many missing and damaged leaves.

The auctioneer phoned the lady who owned it and informed her there was only one bid. She had the choice of not selling it or letting it go for $7,000. She sold it. When I received the Bible, I discovered the description did not do it justice. The missing leaves were not missing, and the damaged leaves were quite insignificant for a 400 year old Bible.

While my retirement account was depleted and visa card battered, I was the happiest collector in the known world. To this day, it is my favorite King James Bible.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary I wrote a book, A Royal Monument of English Literature (Credo House Publishers; First edition (January 15, 2011); ISBN-10: 1935391518) that chronicles the history of the KJV, catalogs all known first editions, who owns them and descriptions.

Each copy contains an original and authentic first edition leaf of the 1611King James Bible. This was my way of contributing to the modern legacy and a piece of its history.

Now, 50 years after I purchased my first King James Bible, I still like to read and memorize it. I use modern translations for personal study, but I use the language of the King James Bible to read for worship and communicating with God. 

Someone offered a piece of good advice: “Even if you don’t read it all the time, you should read it some of the time.”

 Read more about the World’s Best-Selling Book in The Washington Times Communities.

-cl 5/4/11

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Donald L. Brake, Sr.

Donald L. Brake, Ph.D., is Dean Emeritus of Multnomah Biblical Seminary, past president of Jerusalem University College, Israel; author of A Visual History of the English Bible: The Tumultuous Tale of The World’s Bestselling Book; Baker Books, 2008 (a 2009 ECPA Christian Book Award finalist), A Visual History of the King James Bible: The Dramatic Tale of the World’s Best-Known Translation, Baker Books, 2011, A Royal Monument of English Literature: The King James Bible 1611, Credo House Publishers, 2011; and antiquarian collector with his extensive collection of rare and significant Bibles and artifacts currently at the Dunham Bible Museum, Houston Baptist University, Houston, Texas.


Contact Donald L. Brake, Sr.


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