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Friday, November 26, 2010

The perfect Christmas gift for collectors

The Guardian newspaper has an intriguing item of interest to all book collectors.  Though not a likely wedding gift for Kate and Wills (assuming they are bibliophiles), the so-called "Wicked Bible" would merit pride of place on many a millionaire's bookshelf.

It was a printer's error ... or maybe not.

Back in 1631, Barker and Lucas, the royal printers, published a Bible with one of the most famous misprints (if it is that) in the whole of literature.

We all know the Ten Commandments, right?  (Don't all speak at once.)  In case you don't remember, you can find these rules in Exodus 20:14.  In Barker and Lucas's edition, Number Seven, which should scold one about sinning out of wedlock, reads, "Thou shalt commit adultery."  (My italics.)

Was it the work of some errant apprentice?  Or did Barker and/or Lucas feel like justifying some extramural fling?  Who knows?  What is on record is that the Bishop of London noticed and was deeply offended.  He immediately passed on the nasty news to the king, Charles I, who summoned the errant printers to the Star Chamber, fined them 300 quid, and revoked their licence.  (Pity it wasn't Charles II, who would have found it funny.)

Worse still, it put the whole of printer-hood into bad repute.  The Archbishop of Canterbury blamed it on shoddy standards. "I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, the Bibles especially, good compositors and the best correctors were gotten being grave and learned men, the paper and the letter rare, and faire every way of the beste, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned," he opined.

Naturally, the book became widely and popularly known as the Wicked Bible.  It was the kind of publicity modern publishers can only dream about.  The whole print run of 1,000 copies was supposed to be destroyed, but naturally some survived.  There are 11 Wicked Bibles officially in existence, but there are probably more.

So it is perfectly possible to find one -- but be prepared to shell out at least fifty thousand pounds, or the equivalent (about 90,000) in hard-earned greenbacks.

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