About this series
Charles Payette’s Bible collection — numbering more than 3,000 books, wood blocks and other rare artifacts — is considered one of the world’s finest and rarest in private hands. In fact, some books in his collection are the only known ones in existence. Over the next several weeks, the Forsyth County resident is offering a closer look at some of the Bibles.
Visit forsythnews.com to watch a video of Charles Payette talking about the 1610 Geneva Bible in Octavo.
In the ninth of a 12-part series on the Payette Bibles, the FCN will offer a look at a rare 1611 Black Letter printing Geneva Bible.
FORSYTH COUNTY — In this eighth installment of the Forsyth County News series on resident Charles Payette’s Bible collection, readers will become familiar with a small, museum-quality 1610 Geneva Bible in Octavo.
“Octavo” refers to the size of the Bible, which is quite small. Measuring 151 millimeters by 89 millimeters, the Bible is considered “pocket-sized” compared with most other Bibles from this period.
These octavo Bibles were extremely popular and as such widely used, so remaining copies are extremely rare. And when they are in such incredible condition, the rarity is heightened.
This is the only octavo Geneva edition printed in 1610, shortly before the introduction of the first King James Bible. In fact, with the introduction of the King James Bible in 1611, this is the last known octavo-sized edition of the complete Geneva Bible printed.
This pristine copy collates 100 percent complete and includes all title pages, including a 1611 dated title to the “Whole Book of Psalms Collected into English Meter,” by Thomas Sternhold and John Hopkins.
A metrical psalter is basically a psalm translated into vernacular poetry, which was designed to be sung as hymns in church.
Readers will remember that prior to this time period of the early reformers, congregations were not allowed to sing during church.
Reformers believed the Psalms, meaning “songs,” were the perfect part of scriptures to sing to glorify God. To have the entire collection, as the Payette copy does, is quite rare. The Bible also contains a tribute to King James, with a woodcut of the royal arms on the verso of the general title.
The entire New Testament is printed in a single column, reminiscent of the early William Tyndale New Testament and no other known copy like this one has been identified.
The print is hand ruled in red, a sign it was printed/owned for someone of noted importance and wealth. This particular copy has its original binding, although it is fragile on the spine.
As with so many of the Bibles in the Payette collection, the rare provenance is as fascinating as the fact that the Bible survived so many years and owners.
The 1610 Geneva Bible was owned by Sir Henry Bunbury (1565-1634), who was a knight in Cheshire, England. During the Middle Ages, Knights were the best of the best in terms of fighting — something that was almost always going on.
Knights were experts with many weapons, including spears or lances, swords and battle axes. They rode horses into battle and carried with them their coats of arms, designs that sometimes included a logo or motto used to help families identify them if they were killed or wounded in battle.
Families passed these coats of arms down through generations, much as they passed down Bibles.
It is interesting to note that William Shakespeare applied for a coat of arms on behalf of his father, John, and the family received it in 1596.
Shakespeare used the language/translation of the Geneva Bible as the basis for much of his work.
American scholar and personal friend and mentor of Payette, Naseeb Shaheen (1931-2009) wrote four books about how Shakespeare used Biblical allusions in many of his works and how he relied on the Geneva Bible. Naseeb possessed more than 100 Geneva Bibles, which he sourced to support his theory.
Bunbury was knighted by King James in 1616, six years after this edition was produced, and was married first to Elizabeth Anne Bunbury, who died after giving him son, Sir Henry Benjamin Bunbury. His second marriage was to Mary Norris Bunbury, whose initials MB, may be the ones on the original cover of this Bible.
How fascinating to note that a later descendant of Sir Bunbury, Henry Bunbury (1778-1860), discovered a first edition volume of some of Shakespeare’s plays, including an unknown text of “Hamlet” known as Q1, which predates all other versions and is dated 1603.
Another interesting fact is that Bunbury was extremely interested in Shakespeare and had several of his quartos and first and fourth folios, which we know about from a letter he wrote to Thomas Forgnall Dibdin in 1824.
Next week, we’ll a rare 1611 Black Letter printing Geneva Bible will be examined. This Bible’s printing coincides with the first King James Bible and is also notable due to its unusual provenance.