The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible: a new gift

Friday 27 June 2014
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The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible, generously gifted to the Special Collections Division of the University Library.
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The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible on display in the King James Library

A very recent generous gift from Bruce and Suzie Kovner to the Special Collections Division of the University Library is on display in the King James Library this weekend. The Pennyroyal Caxton Bible was designed and illustrated by Barry Moser, described by Nicholas Basbanes as ‘probably the most important book illustrator working in America today.’ Moser began work on the first illustration in November 1995 and completed the last in April 1999.

The text is that of the Authorized or King James Version; verse numbers have been omitted. The type was designed by Matthew Carter of Massachusetts, based on 16th-century letterforms, while the paper was made in a German mill especially for this Bible. The printing took three years to complete. The computer generated type was rendered into polymer plates and printed on a traditional printing press in Austin, Texas.

Pennyroyal Caxton Bible in two volumes (Bib BS185.F99N4)

The Bible is bound in two volumes. Volume 1 contains the five books of Moses, the historical books, and the books of poetry. Volume 2 contains the books of prophecy and the New Testament. The bindings are full vellum and sewn by hand.

The 233 engravings, which look virtually indistinguishable from wood engravings, are executed in a cast polymer resin medium, developed in response to the scarcity of high quality boxwood engraving blocks.

'And the Sea Stopped Raging'; an engraving from the Book of Jonah.
‘And the Sea Stopped Raging’; an engraving from the Book of Jonah.
Moser’s illustration for the Book of Ruth.

Owing to his use of live models and photographs of real people, Moser’s illustrations bring the ancient characters of the Bible to a contemporary reality. The effect is often as startling and unsettling as it is moving.  Barry Moser has described his work as

a struggle. A struggle to engage not only a sacred text but the greatest monument of our language; to grapple with typography and images befitting such sanctity and monumentality; and to wrestle with the devils and angels that reside therein.

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