A rare first edition 1611 King James Bible found among cousins and cokes

Can any good thing come from a cousins' reunion?

FLOWER MOUND, TX, April 16, 2012 — If you are under 50 years of age, a cousins’ reunion in a beach house in Florida is probably not on your bucket list. But if you are over 50 and are in my family, it is a time of unbridled laughter, retelling of childhood adventures, endless story telling (some of them true—always expanded), competitive golf, and accompanying “professional” shoppers who don’t know when to stop. Where else could you get sun burned on a beach, view a shark near shore, follow small schools of dolphins, and pity a lonely duck? 

Even at my age, such reunions are adventures in learning about myself and my cousins. I seemed inept in Words with Friends, shocked at the competitive nature of mild-mannered cousins in Mexican Train Dominoes and stunned at the location of a possible first edition 1611 King James Bible. 

My family knows of my work to register all known first editions of 1611 King James Bibles. Although previous estimates ranged from 40-50 known copies, my book, “A Royal Monument of English Literature,” has recorded more than 185 copies. Knowing that there are probably still some “out there,” I am continually on the lookout for additional copies and will go to great lengths to hunt them down. 

My cousin Kathy had just visited The Biedenharn Museum and Gardens in Monroe, Louisiana. The museum includes the historic home of Emy-Lou Biedenharn, formal gardens, and a Coca-Cola museum. 

In addition to the very interesting Coca-Cola museum and fabulous Biedenharn home, there is a Bible collection. My 35 years of collecting has brought me into contact with hundreds of Bible collections in museums, libraries and private collections, but I was not aware of the Biedenharn. My cousin and I searched the internet and found the description of the museum and contents. 

The greatest interest to me was a listing of a 1611 King James Bible. While many individuals and institutions claim to have a first edition, many turn out to be a second printing or second edition. Nevertheless, I must investigate.

With hopes elevated and adrenalin pumping, I scheduled my return trip from Florida to Texas to include Monroe, LA. The Saturday staff was somewhat abbreviated. The Executive Director and Museum Guide Coordinator were not on duty. But as I entered the Museum and told a young docent of my interest in the Bible Museum, I was directed to a non-staff member, Kathy Biedenharn, who just happened to be in the building. Kathy and her husband, Henry III are the current directors of the museums. 

Kathy Biedenharn warmly greeted me. For the next hour I was spellbound by her intense enthusiasm for their Bible collection, historic house, and the Coca-Cola display. The Biedenharn Museum was built in 1913 as a private home by Joe Biedenharn (1866-1952), who in 1894 developed an innovative way of taking Coca-Cola from a fountain and putting it into a bottle. This allowed those unable to get into town to enjoy a Coke. The original home, known as the Biedenharn Home, is now a museum and furnished as it was during the residence of Biedenharn’s daughter, opera singer, Emy-Lou Biedenharn.   

I was still waiting for that word of confirmation that the 1611 in the Biedenharn collection was a first edition. Mrs. Biedenharn knew the Museum had the first edition second issue (1611/13) but was not sure about the first edition since many Bibles were locked in storage. 

The issue was clarified with a follow up call to the Executive Director, Ralph Calhoun. It was not a “He” Bible of 1611 but a “She” Bible dated 1611/13. While disappointed at my discovery, a 1611/13 is a rare edition and a valuable asset to a Bible museum. 

However, the pursuit was not in vain. While the Biedenharn did not have a “He” Bible, they informed Stevenson University of my hunt and Dr. Glenn T Johnston, University Archivist notified me that they have a 1611 “He” Bible. The confusion came as the University had loaned their 1611 to the Biedenharn Museum for a display.

The joy in discovering a fine Bible museum which led to the “He” Bible at Stevenson University overshadowed the unwelcomed 3:30 AM departure and 13 hour trip back to Texas from our beach house in Florida.  

Good things can happen when attending uneventful reunions. If you are driving Interstate 20 near Monroe, LA, stop at the Biedenharn and treat yourself to a fine museum experience. Of course, be sure to take note of their King James Bible. 



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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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