American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Memory, Exhibit Object Focus

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A Curious
Hieroglyphick Bible

A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible,
or, Select Passages in the Old and
New Testaments, Represented with
Emblematical Figures, for the
Amusement of Youth.

Worcester: Isaiah Thomas, 1788
Rare Book & Special Collections Division

A touchstone of eighteenth-century American book illustration, this "curious" children's Bible contains nearly five hundred woodcuts made by American artists. The most ambitious woodcut book produced in America up to that time, it is one of the sixty-five children's book titles produced by the pioneer publisher of children's literature and preeminent early American printer Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), who had learned the art of engraving while apprenticed in his youth to the Boston printer Zechariah Fowle. Only four copies of this remarkable piece of early Americana exist today.

A hieroglyphic Bible replaces some of the words of the text with pictures in an attempt to tell a story in a direct, simple, and interesting way. Such Bibles became very popular in the late eighteenth century as an easy means of teaching the Scripture to the young. In his preface to this volume, Thomas offers this first American hieroglyphic Bible, more extensively illustrated than its English prototype, as not only a pleasing method of teaching Bible lessons to children, but as "an easy Way of leading them on in Reading."

Printed in Worcester, Massachusetts, the book was inscribed by its first owner, "Enoch Brooks' Book, Princeton, March 13th, 1789." It is now in the Library's Early American Imprint Collection. English precursors and nineteenth-century American editions are found in the Bible Collection, a representative sampling of nearly fifteen hundred early editions and rare issues of Bibles in numerous languages.

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