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The John Rylands Research Institute

Bible Collections research

The Bible Collection, which originated with the purchase by Mrs Rylands of the Spencer Collection in 1892, is of major importance for biblical scholarship, bibliography and the history of printing.

Included in the collection are Bibles in more than 400 different languages and dialects, published over almost five centuries. The earliest editions are the 42-line or Gutenberg Bible, printed at Mainz in c.1455, and the even rarer 36-line Bible printed at Bamberg in 1458-60. 

The collection includes: 

  • Nearly 100 editions of the Latin Vulgate printed before 1500, together with first editions in virtually every language
  • The four great Polyglots of the 16th and 17th centuries, including the Complutensian sponsored by Cardinal Ximenes
  • Six editions of the Erasmian New Testament
  • A complete conspectus of the history of the English text from Tyndale to the present day 

In the 1930s Mrs Ernest Hartland of Chepstow donated 2,000 Bibles and 1,500 miscellaneous volumes, including 32 incunabula, in memory of her late husband who had, in his turn, absorbed the library of Walter A. Copinger, Professor of Law at Owens College from 1892 until his death in 1910.

Current research project

Naomi Billingsley, Leverhulme Early Carer Fellow at the Institute is working on a project about the Macklin Bible - an ambitious, illustrated Bible, published in London in 1800. The Bible included specially-commissioned plates by the leading artists of the day. Naomi’s research will investigate the formation and reception of the Bible in the context of religious visual culture in the Romantic period. The project will make extensive use of the Bible Collection at the John Rylands Library, which includes four copies of the Macklin Bible, and numerous eighteenth-century illustrated Bibles to contextualise the Macklin. The research will also draw on other collections at the Library, including visual collections and artists’ papers, as well as other collections in Greater Manchester, including the Whitworth, and Bolton Museums.