Read the Book

Henry Folger, the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library, acquired this first edition of the King James Bible in 1924 from William T. Smedley, the former chairman of a British silent film company. Smedley, who believed that Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare’s plays, had assembled a large private library. He sold Folger the bulk of his collection, more than 1300 rare items, including this Bible. Like many early books, it has been rebound. The English binding of tooled calfskin probably dates from the late nineteenth century.

The first edition of the King James Bible is a large, thick, folio-size book that weighs about 18 pounds; the pages are 16 by 10 1/2 inches. This size made it suitable for use at the pulpit in English churches, which were required to have a Bible “of the largest and greatest volume.” Later editions were printed in a variety of sizes for different uses, including smaller copies for private reading.

Open the book to see several pages of the King James Bible as it first appeared in 1611. For most pages, you can also read short explanatory notes and hear commentary on this edition or recordings of sample passages.