Rebinding of The Last Martyr's Bible: Coverdale Bible, 1538.

1538 Coverdale Bible (New Testament),

1538 Coverdale Bible (New Testament),

We recently had the pleasure of restoring and rebinding this copy of a 1538 New Testament Coverdale Bible (Herbert #40). To date there are only about 4 or 5 known copies of an original Coverdale Bible:  Cambridge University has two copies, Yale has a copy, and we know of one more copy in private hands; there possibly could be one other copy in private hands but that is unknown.  

The history of the Bible is fascinating to us.  Several men risked and lost their lives trying to translate the Bible into English and other languages.  The main goal in translating the Bible into other languages was to bring the "word of God" to everyone.  The authorization to translate the Bible from Latin to English and other languages varied throughout the years.  Prior to 1539 a person caught with a bible in any other language than Latin would be imprisoned and/or killed.  This is why the Coverdale Bible published prior to 1539 is considered a Martyr's Bible.  In 1539 King Henry VIII gave permission to publish the Coverdale Bible. 

This version of the Bible is referred to as Coverdale because Myles Coverdale, a Lawyer and Bishop of Exeter, translated and published this version.  Coverdale based the text in part on Tyndale's translation of the the New Testament, and a few other books in the Old Testament were based on Martin Luther's German translation.  Coverdale finished the translation of the Old Testament, and so the first edition, published in 1535, was the first complete modern English Bible.  

 This copy had been rebound several years ago, but technically it wasn't bound in a period accurate style, and so the binding just didn't feel right to it's owner.   This is where we come in. 

I'm so happy we were commissioned to rebind this special book; when we disbound the book we found a lot of issues that the previous binder actually caused.  Unfortunately the previous binder trimmed the text block which resulted in trimming too close to the text.  The text block wasn't sewn back together, it was glued just like you find paper backs today, so pages were literally falling out.  Instead of using archival and period appropriate adhesives, the binder had used R-PVA.  The R stands for reversible, but it isn't, and this kind of adhesive causes a lot of damage, especially to paper that is nearly 475 years old.  The facsimile title page was basically a bad photocopy.  Our client was able to get a scanned copy of a title page from one of Cambridge University's copies.  We were able to clean up the scan marks, and then age the facsimile so it looked more authentic to the text block.

Here are the general restoration and rebind stats:

  • Disbound and then repaired broken signatures.
  • Guarded all signatures.
  • Resewed the text block with linen thread on alum tawed goat split thongs.
  • Added new facsimile title page.
  • Laced on wooden boards.
  • Bound in hand-dyed (by us) calf leather.
  • Applied deluxe gold and blind tooling on covers and spine.
  • All tools used to create the pattern on the spine were made by Joseph.
  • The dies used on the cover Joseph designed, so this book is truly one of a kind. 
  • Hand cut silver clasps made from 1921 "Liberty Head" dollars.
  • Hand embroidered "Renaissance Chevron" end bands.
  • Lightly aged the binding and finished with a polish.
  • Reworked the clamshell (previously made by us) for the new binding, and added a Coverdale medallion from 1835.
  • Total restoration and binding time:  54 hours.

See more of the binding process below.


Want your own Coverdale Bible title page to frame and hang in your home or office?  Check out our facsimile title page HERE to get your own copy and become part of the history!