Tips on finding the value of antique Bibles
“How much is my old Bible worth?”
We get this question a lot about antique Bibles, and though the answer isn’t in black and white, the bottom line is that the value of an old Bible very often depends on age, condition and rarity.
- How old is it? (1800 or earlier is best)
- What condition is it in?
- How rare is it?
If your old Bible was published the mid-to-late 19th century, or anytime in the 20th century, it’s not going to be worth much.
Let’s learn about a few points that will make a difference in the value of your antique Bible.
Are 20th century Bibles valuable?
In short, no.
The most common question we get is from people who have an old Bible published in the 20th century and are curious about what it is worth.
Old Bibles published between 1900-2000 are almost exclusively considered reading material and unless your copy was owned by someone famous, it is not worth further research.
For instance, Elvis Presley’s personal Bible, published in 1977, sold for $94,000 at auction in 2012. The exact same Bible, not owned by Elvis Presley, is worth $10 or less.
Valuable Bibles are (often) dated 1800 or earlier
There are a few rare exceptions, but if you have a Bible published AFTER about 1800, it is most likely worth very little as there were tremendous numbers of Bibles produced during this time.
According to the International Society of Bible Collectors, American Bible publishing experienced somewhat of an explosion just after the end of the Revolutionary War.
If you have an antique Bible published in America in the very early 19th century, it could possibly have some value.
Condition helps determine value
Whatever their title and whatever their age, books were, and are, meant to be read. Just think about how people have used and cherished Bibles through the years.
Unless they’re gorgeous display-only works of art, Bibles have typically been heavily used by their owners. In fact, second to antique children’s books, thumbed through by little hands, old Bibles tend to suffer the worst when it comes to their condition.
Bibles are heavily used and often tend to be in poor condition.
The Bible is not only the single most printed book in history but it’s also the most read. This is primarily why most old Bibles don’t stand the test of time in terms of condition as well as other books which tend to sit on the shelf.
Therefore, it stands to reason why condition becomes an important factor in the value of an antique Bible.
How rare is my antique Bible?
Rarity plays a big part in the worth of an old Bible.
In general, a Bible published from around 1820 – 2000 almost certainly has little or no value. Because Bibles published in that time period are so common today, they are easy to obtain. When a book is easy to obtain and plentiful, it’s not rare, and most times, not very valuable.
One of the exceptions to this guideline is if the Bible is finely bound or has some special characteristic which sets it apart from the crowd, it can have more collectibility.
The Catholic family Bible pictured above is an exception to the rule. Although this Bible was published in the 1880s, it is in wonderful condition with original clasps. These types of family Bibles were very common in the Victorian era and for obvious reasons are still collectible today for their beauty as display pieces. The clasped Bible pictured above sold at one of our auctions for $300.
Exceptionally old Bibles are more desirable
However, the older the Bible, the less important condition becomes.
Due to the relative scarcity of antique Bibles in decent condition which are 200+ years old, their value and collectibility rises.
For example, even an incomplete King James Bible from 1611 can still be worth a considerable amount.
Individual leaves from centuries old Bibles can have value
Sometimes, you don’t even need the entire Bible to have great value on your hands. Some individual leaves from truly rare Bibles can make big money.
The Gutenberg, also known as the 42 Line Bible, was the first substantial book printed around 1455 using “moveable type”, and is probably the most famous and sought after antique Bible.
In fact, just one page from the Gutenberg Bible could be expected to fetch $100,000 or more!
It’s extremely unlikely that any of us have a loose leaf from the original Gutenberg stored up in the attic, but it certainly is mind-blowing to think about the value of just a single page.
What makes an antique Bible collectible?
There are many types of antique Bibles that are collectible for various reasons. Here are just a few of the most popular:
- Beautiful or ornate bindings
- Large vellum clasped folios
- Gorgeous full-plate illustrations
- Early 15th – 17th century woodcuts, maps, later steel engravings
- Chromolithographic printings
- Specific language translations
Beauty and quality craftsmanship go a long way in adding to desirability, and these are definitely factors to consider when evaluating an old Bible.
Biblical historians and scholars often collect antiquarian Bibles for the various translations that have been printed all over the world. In fact, as of 2020 the Bible in its entirety has been translated into 698 languages!
When we evaluate an antique Bible, these are just a basic points we look at. This, combined with the experience dealing with antique books and access to historic auction records help judge the interest for certain types of Bibles in the antiquarian marketplace.
If you have a question about the potential auction value of your antique Bible, you’re welcome to contact us.
Please note that we do not evaluate any Bible dated 1820 or later, unless it has some exceptional characteristic.