Many of the "special collections" in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division are thus named because the collection items arrived through a specific gift, or because they constituted a personal library, such as that of Ralph Ellison or Thomas Jefferson.
The Bible Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division is not one of these collections. A report in 1939 written by Mr. Parma, the first Curator of the Rare Book Division, describes the rational for creating these sorts of special collections as follows:
"Material progress has been made in analyzing the collection and segregating the books in classes for the convenience of students. For example, it is now possible to visualize the development of British and American fiction through a chronological grouping of British fiction from the middle of the sixteenth century through 1800 and American fiction to 1831... A few of the special collections formed for the convenience for students include:
BIBLES -- Early editions and rare issues in all languages.
ALMANACS -- British from the sixteenth century and American from 1660, including all the issues of Poor Richard after 1788.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN COLLECTION -- This collection includes books written, printed and edited by Benjamin Franklin..."
Under Mr. Parma's direction, the Bible Collection was created to assist with teaching the history of the Bible as a literary artifact. As a result of how these materials were collocated, the books now in the Bible Collection in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division are a smattering of historical examples in a variety of conditions and sizes.
This particular collection of books at the Library of Congress had no single, focused collector; rather, these items were purchased or donated in the early days of the Library of Congress before the Rare Book Division was formally created. The books were subsequently gathered into a named collection for the purpose of instruction. A meticulous collector of Bibles, therefore, will find gaps in this "collection," and patrons may be surprised by what the Library of Congress does and does not possess in the Bible Collection. Researchers in search of a particular imprint are advised to contact the Reference Staff through our Ask-A-Librarian service.
This guide is intended to provide an introduction to the Bible Collection for patrons who may be new to research at the Library of Congress. Searching for Bibles can be a great place to begin, because the text is often quite literally familiar--many families record genealogical information in their Bibles over generations. However, simply entering "bible" into the Library of Congress Online Catalog will result in too many records to be useful to the researcher. This guide is intended to provide some useful tips and tricks for learning more about this collection at the Library of Congress.
The unique materials of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, now totaling over 1 million items, include books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. At the center is Thomas Jefferson's book collection, which was sold to Congress in 1815. The Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room is modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall. This room is home to the divisional catalogs, reference collection, and reference staff. Collections are stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults.