The Place of the Family Bible In The Victorian Home
By the middle of the 19th century the family bible was considered as being a lot more than just scripture inspired by the word of God.
They became objects of devotion in their own right, often given a central position in the home, they became a repository for family records, births, deaths and marriages and memories in the form of correspondences or dried flowers.
The Family Bible evolved into the religious center of the home.
The Protestantism of the time venerated the word made flesh, and held sermons to be of value rather than ritual. So it came to be that the domestic Family Bible became seen as such a venerated object.
Bible warehouses of the time catered to this demand by making very large family Bibles, complete with explanatory articles, full page engravings, and later, colour illustrations, family history pages for recording births and deaths, and bindings that harked back in style to the medieval book.
The family Bible became the altar of domestic spirituality, a place where the sacred life of the household met the sacred life of the church founders, apostles & prophets.
Our book bindery was situated in the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, I think for that reason we had so many Family Bibles to repair. Looking at our receipts I see we repaired approximately twenty large format Bibles a year.
Unfortunately the structure of most of these large Bibles lacked the wisdom of the contents. No doubt when new, these bindings looked very sturdy, but the Bible warehouses where these books were sewn and bound were subject to the economic conditions of the day, and economies were made in both materials and structure.
Regarding design, many of these Family Bibles harked back to the style of the ancient book. In the Middle Ages before paper became widely used, Bibles were hand written on parchment and had thick wooden boards with metal clasps, all this to keep the parchment flat.
Many of the large format Family Bibles that we see today also have heavy boards, up to half an inch thick in some cases. These boards can be very dense, being made from old rope which had been passed through heated rollers.
In further imitation of the medieval book, Family Bibles often came with brass fittings and decorative corners. Some had engraved edging around the sides of the boards. These fittings were made of tin and given a brass plating, not all Family Bibles have these fittings but they are common.
Of course these fittings added a lot to the board's weight.
Attempting to keep within a tight budget, most of these Family Bibles were covered in inexpensive thin sheepskin skiver.
Sheepskin has the best handling qualities of all leathers, it is soft and warm to the touch, it may have been one reason why this leather was used so much to cover Bibles which were going to be handled a lot.
It is these factors that lead up to a Family Bible needing repair. Unrepaired Bibles will often be found with one board detached from the cover, the sewing may need attention, and the fittings may have suffered, the cover may be falling to pieces, also the leather has probably not been fed in many decades.
But it is possible to restore these Family Bibles, no matter how bad it may appear to you, I have been repairing Bibles for 30 years and never once has it proved impossible to bring one back to life.
The cost of your Family Bible repair is easier to bear, knowing that you have made certain that your family heirloom has been expertly restored, and will be there for future generations to consult and add to.
The family history pages of such Bibles can be a very good place to start a family tree.
By R E Norman