Aitken New Testament

Robert Aitken first advertised his New Testament for sale in the August 28, 1777 edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. The transcription of this ad is below:

“Just printed (bound and ready for sale) by R. Aitken, printer and bookseller, opposite the London Coffee-house, Frontstreet, a neat edition of THE NEW TESTAMENT for the use of schools, where may be had writing paper of different kinds, particularly letter paper of the first quality, and several hundreds of excellent quills.

The Aitken New Testament is about 1 1/4″ thick by 3 7/8″ wide by 6 1/2″ tall

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Before the Revolution, it had been impossible to print an English language version of the Bible in the colonies because no American printers held a license from the King granting permission to print the Bible. The war cut off shipments of Bibles from Great Britain, but also got rid of the need for the license; thereby creating a shortage of Bibles and the ability to print them in America.

Robert Aitken stepped in to fill this void. Beginning in 1777, Aitken began publishing and selling New Testaments. Demand was heavy, so every year, for the next five years, Aitken published a new edition of his New Testament. In total, he published five editions: Aitken’s second edition was published in 1778; his third in 1779; his fourth in 1780; and finally his last and fifth edition was published in 1781. I am unsure of the number of New Testaments Aitken printed each year, but I expect that it was somewhere between one thousand and ten thousand.

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It was not until 1782 that Aitken published his first complete Bible; his first Old Testament was added to his previously printed New Testament. I believe that Aitken planned ahead and printed about ten thousand additional New Testaments in 1781 and had them waiting to be bound with the ten thousand Old Testaments he printed in 1782. You will notice that the 1782 Bible’s New Testament title page is dated 1781, while the Old Testament is dated 1782. This was the only year that the Aitken Bible was published.

After the war, America was once again flooded with inexpensive Bibles from England. Aitken was stuck with way too many Bibles and was near financial ruin. The Presbyterian Synod stepped in and purchased Aitken’s remaining stock and gave them to the poor.

Robert Aitken’s book plate

This logo, depicting an anchor and ship in stormy seas, was printed on Aitken’s shipping forms. As with any British colonist, Aitken would first need to brave the ocean before setting foot in America. One can imagine that this logo reflected both his personal experience as well as the overseas origin of his stock of books. In 1769, Aitken made a brief trip to America as a temporary sojourner, selling books and other goods he brought over from Scotland. Aitken returned home, but brought his family back with him in 1771 to establish permanent residency. On his trip, he shipped over enough supplies to start a business importing, binding, and printing books (see Sher, 532 ff.).
 
 
 
A version of this logo is found in the Marian S. Carson Collection, Library of Congress, and is printed in Richard B. Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book (University of Chicago, 2007), p. 533, fig. 8.4.
 
 

 

 

“Look for this Bible on the show “TURN” on the AMC channel, Netflix, etc.”

These two images are displayed to give an idea of the work that goes in to our final texts. It is easy to see the difference, and much goes in to cleaning the scans of each page in all of our books. We are grateful for those who choose to help!