Every day when I arrive at the John J. Burns Library I first inspect the building to make certain that the HVAC system is running as expected, and that there have been no leaks or floods in the stacks overnight. On the morning of August 8, in the midst of such an inspection, as I proceeded to roll open one of the compact shelving units, I suddenly heard the cry, “hello, hello!” Alarmed that I had accidentally crushed my colleague, Kathleen Williams, Senior Reference Librarian, whose voice I recognized as the source of the call, I dashed around the shelving unit only to encounter her standing in the middle of the aisle unscathed. She explained that she was sent to locate a Bible in the stacks, and she had been instructed by our boss, Bridget Burke, to find the book as soon as possible. Eager to help, I asked her if any Bible would do—we have a large number of Bibles in the stacks—but she assured me that we needed to find a particular 18th century Bible; which, as it turned out, was the first Catholic one printed in the United States.
A request for this Bible had been made by U.S. Senator Edward Markey, BC ’68, and BC Law ’72. Thomas Wall, University Librarian, had received his request at 11:00 pm the prior evening, August 7th, and had promptly contacted Ms. Burke, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, who in turn swiftly ascertained that the John J. Burns Library holds a copy of the 18th century Catholic Bible known as the Carey Bible. Senator Markey wished to use the Carey Bible for his ceremonial swearing-in at Faneuil Hall on the evening of August 8th. As a Boston College undergraduate Markey had majored in history and he wanted a historic Catholic tome to be used in that famous Boston setting. With the help of Jay Moschella, Senior Special Collections Cataloging Assistant, Kathleen soon found the Bible, and brought it into the Conservation lab in order for me to assess its condition, and affirm that the large-sized volume was sound enough to leave the Library to be used in such a ceremony.
The book was in a protective clamshell box, which included documentation showing that it had received some conservation work in 1981, and that the box was made for it at that time. I recognized the 18th century “Cambridge” style of the cover. In Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books, by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, this style is described as, “An English style of bookbinding practiced largely on theological works and in university libraries. Books bound in this style were sewn on raised cords, covered in calfskin that was masked and sprinkled in such a manner as to leave a stained central rectangular panel, a plain rectangular frame, which in turn, was surrounded by a stained outside frame.” In the adjacent image you can see this pattern on the Carey Bible. I felt that the book, if transported in the protective box, could be used for a swearing-in ceremony, however I also thought that it could use some additional conservation treatment in order to look its best for this important occasion. There were areas on the book cover where the leather was missing and overall the leather looked very dried-out. After I carefully treated the book, improving its appearance, I did some research to find out the history of the volume.
The printer of this special Bible, an Irish immigrant by the name of Mathew Carey, worked a short time for Benjamin Franklin until he was given $400.00 by the Marquis de Lafayette to start his own printing firm in Philadelphia. John Adams was also a supporter of Carey because they shared Federalist Party political views. Carey printed The Holy Bible in 1790. For this Bible, Carey used Challoner’s 1764 revision of the Douai Bible as a text source. Carey printed fewer than five hundred copies of this title and presently only thirty copies are known to still exist. The Burns Library copy was originally owned by Inquisitor General D. Jose Maria de Mello, counsel to Queen Maria of Portugal in the 18th century.
The Carey Bible use by Senator Edward Markey proved to be exciting for the Burns Library, not only because it brought attention to the historic Bible, but also because it placed the Bible in a setting beyond the special collections library. The Carey Bible, although rare, was used in a normal way that bibles have been used throughout the centuries that is, at a swearing-in ceremony. The Boston College University Libraries encourage faculty, students, and researchers to use Burns Library primary sources, rare books and archival materials, in their courses and research. We are pleased that the Carey Bible while in the hands of Senator Markey and his wife, Dr. Susan J. Blumenthal, served as a lesson for them: to demonstrate, in a dramatic and notable way, the usage of the book during its history prior to being donated to the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections. For more information, please contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or email@example.com.
- Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, Burns Library