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Lot 31: Eliot, John, translator

Est: $175,000 USD - $225,000 USD
Sotheby'sDecember 07, 1999New York, NY, US

Item Overview


[Bible in Massachuset, Natick dialect:] Mamusse Wunneetupanatamwe Up-Biblum God Naneeswe Nukkone Testament kah wonk Wusku Testament. Cambridge [Massachusetts]: Printeuoop nashpe Samuel Green kah Marmaduke Johnson,1663-1661 2 volumes in one, 4to (7" x 5Â in.; 181 x 143 mm). Old Testament: Natick-language general title; title-page browned and stained, tear with minor text losses along lower margin of C4 neatly repaired, top and bottom margins shaved occasionally touching headlines or costing catchwords and quire signings, closed tear affecting text on Hhh1, some staining, chiefly marginal. New Testament: Natick-language New Testament title (2A1), Natick-language metrical psalms (3A1-3N2) and Rules for Christian Living (3N3); lacks blank 3N4, bottom margins shaved costing a number of catchwords and quire signings especially at the end. Contemporary calf over wooden boards, gilt supralibros of Richard Busby; worn, rebacked and corners restored. Green morocco-backed folding case. FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST BIBLE PRINTED IN THE NEW WORLD, with the title-pages for both the Old and New Testaments printed in Natick. Eliot's remarkable translation is also considered the "first complete Bible to be printed in a new language as a means of evangelization" (PMM). In 1646 Eliot began missionary work among the Massachuset Indians and quickly mastered their Natick language. With the endorsement and support of the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, Eliot began a phonetic translation of the Scriptures into Natick, which hitherto lacked a written form. The Corporation supplied a printing press for the work, as well as a new type font containing extra sorts of the letters k and q prevalent in Natick, and of a character devised by Eliot expressly for a particular Natick pronunciation. Assisted by a native American apprentice with the appropriate Christian name of James Printer, Green and Johnson worked the press, completing the New Testament in 1661 and the Old in 1663. The full work was then bound and distributed: most copies remained in New England for the benefaction of the Massachuset people but a few bound with an English-language title-page were sent to England for the use of the Corporation. Curiously enough, this copy, which has only the Natick title-pages, bears the arms of Richard Busby (1606-1695), who was Master of Westminster School from 1638 onward; it would therefore seem plausible then that Busby secured the bible through some American channel rather than receiving it directly from the Corporation. Busby built a church near Willan and furnished it with a scholarly library in which the Eliot bible reposed until its sale by the Westminster School in our London rooms in 1966. Scarce, most copies of the first edition were read to ruin or destroyed during the conflagrations of King Philip's War. References: Ayer Indian Linguistics Massachusetts 1; Church 580; Darlow & Moule 6737; Evans 72; Field 495; Pilling Algonquian 132-152; PMM 142; Sabin 22154, 22155 Provenance: Richard Busby (gilt supralibros) -- Westminster School, London (bookplate and sale, Parke-Bernet, 13 December 1966, lot 25).

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