We are beginning again on our work of

scanning and cleaning up the pages of

Robert Aitken’s 1782 Old Testament.

We only have the first two signatures completed and ready to print, but we have a volunteer who plans to complete the rest of the 1782 Aitken Old Testament. Upon completion, we will combine the already complete Aitken 1781 New Testament and then be able to make replicas of Robert Aitken’s entire “Bible of the Revolution”. This Bible will be in high demand.
“Rev. Gentlemen, Our knowledge of your piety and public spirit leads us without apology to recommend to your particular attention the edition of the Holy Scriptures publishing by Mr. Aitken. He undertook this expensive work at a time, when from the circumstances of the war, an English edition of the Bible could not be imported, nor any opinion formed how long the obstruction might continue. On this account particularly he deserves applause and encouragement. We therefore wish you, reverend gentlemen, to examine the execution of the work, and if approved, to give it the sanction of your judgment and the weight of your recommendation. We are with very great respect, your most obedient humble servants.”
 
~ Letter dated Philadelphia, 1 September, 1782, on the Congress’ adoption of the Aitken Bible
Image from the Library of Congress

This is a photo of James Darlack working (scanning and cleaning up) his way through the book of Exodus that will become part of our 1782 Robert Aitken Bible, aka “The Bible of the Revolution”.

 

 

Robert Aitken produced the first English language New Testament made in America. 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 base off of the King James Bible. 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. 


It was not until 1782 that Aitken published his first complete Bible; his first Old Testament (1782) was added to his previously printed 1781 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 that 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, aka “Bible of the Revolution” 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; thus saving him from bankruptcy. 


Original Aitken Bibles are very rare. The last copy I saw sold went for about $150,000.
 
The last time I looked the following institutions were owners of original Aitken Bibles
 
British Museum
Mass. Historical Society
New York State Library
Library of Congress
American Antiquarian Society in Worcester Massachusetts
American Bible Society
Lenox Library New York
Maryland Episcopal Library Baltimore MD
Connecticut Historical Society
Philadelphia Library Company
 
Pennsylvania Historical Society

See the transcription of this add at right.

This is the title page of an Issac Watts Hymnal Printed by Robert Aitken:

 

“Robert Aitken, Printer, bookseller, bookbinder, and stationer, at Pope’s Head, in Market Street, near the Coffee House, Has just finished, and has now ready for sale, a new and very correct edition of The Holy Bible; With which booksellers, store keepers and others in town and country, may be supplied by wholesale and retail on the most reasonable terms the times will admit. The serious Christian will be pleased to find, that the scarcity of Bibles, of which he has so long had reason to complain, is now removed; and the Patriot will rejoice at the advance in the arts, which as at length produced The first Edition of the Holy Scriptures, in the English Language, ever printed in America; each of these will allow the merit due to so capital an undertaking; and the trader will find his interest in affording his patronage and encouragement to this work, as several circumstances, particularly the largeness of the type, and the remarkable good quality of the paper, render this edition superior to any of the same size imported from Europe. N.B. The Bibles will be sold either bound or in sheets, and a suitable discount allowed to those who purchase large quantities.”Robert Aitken, Printer, bookseller, bookbinder, and stationer, at Pope’s Head, in Market Street, near the Coffee House, Has just finished, and has now ready for sale, a new and very correct edition of The Holy Bible; With which booksellers, store keepers and others in town and country, may be supplied by wholesale and retail on the most reasonable terms the times will admit. The serious Christian will be pleased to find, that the scarcity of Bibles, of which he has so long had reason to complain, is now removed; and the Patriot will rejoice at the advance in the arts, which as at length produced The first Edition of the Holy Scriptures, in the English Language, ever printed in America; each of these will allow the merit due to so capital an undertaking; and the trader will find his interest in affording his patronage and encouragement to this work, as several circumstances, particularly the largeness of the type, and the remarkable good quality of the paper, render this edition superior to any of the same size imported from Europe. N.B. The Bibles will be sold either bound or in sheets, and a suitable discount allowed to those who purchase large quantities.”