The Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection
This work is dedicated, with tremendous respect, to the Wycliffe Bible Translators, who have done so much, with such dedication, to raise the sights of so many people in all parts of the world.
The Ramseyer-Northern Bible Society Collection was the hobby and intense interest of the Rev. Henry E. Ramseyer, who was from 1918 until his death in 1945 the Secretary of the Northern Bible Society. He was born in Ontario in 1873, moved in his youth to Michigan, and studied theology at Blufton College in Ohio. He became a minister in 1896 and, coming somewhat by chance to Duluth Minnesota in 1898, he decided that his life's work would be to minister to the lumber and mining camps then developing in northern Minnesota. In Duluth itself he also found a lack of ministry to the poor and homeless, and founded a branch of the Bethel Society, raising funds for the construction of a building which still stands. In 1918, he expanded the work of missions to the workers in northern Minnesota by founding the Northern Bible Society, with the objective of providing the Scriptures to all, at little or no cost, in the languages of their origins. In 1932, the Society erected the Bible House, and in it they had their headquarters, a Book and Bible Shop, and space for the public display of Rev. Ramseyer's private collection.
The Bible House still stands
today in Duluth, MN
This Collection began with the goal of demonstrating the history of the development of the Bible in English, but gradually became much more extensive in illustrating the whole process of the translation of the Bible, not only into English, but also into many other languages. Connections with the American Bible Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society provided many examples of the work of these translation agencies and not a few examples of rare and unusual editions of the Bible in many languages. Over sixty items in the Collection date from before 1700.
After the death of the Rev. Ramseyer, his daughters carried on the work of publicizing and caring for the Collection, and a contact with the Scripture Gift Mission of London provided a wealth of additional material from the work which that organization has done around the world, not only in spreading the Scriptures in many languages, but also in the teaching of literacy.
Display cases in the Library
In 1979, the Society found itself unable to maintain the Bible House and its services and looked for a suitable place where the Collection might be continued, preferably in the Duluth area, where it had been conceived, developed, and displayed. The Chancellor of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, at that time, the late Robert Heller, offered the services of the campus Library as a permanent home for the Collection. The offer was accepted, and a formal transfer was carried out. Display cases were built for continuing publicity for the Collection.
Since that time, the Society has provided financing to add to the Collection and private donors have been generous in making additional items available which fit into one of the Collection's particular areas of interest, the people who immigrated into this area. Another special area of addition has been the continuing output of new translations of the Bible into English.
The Collection now numbers over 1,800 volumes, representing 410 languages. Some of the more interesting items are four scrolls of the Torah, dating from the 13th to the 19th centuries; a first edition of the King James Bible and the 1750 Challoner revision of the Douay/Rheims Bible; the 1490 edition of the Opuscula of Thomas Aquinas; the 1554 Erasmus Latin text of the New Testament; four editions of the Geneva Bible, and the 1862 facsimile edition made from the one extant copy of the Tyndale New Testament, recently purchased by the British Library.
There are also some unusual translations other than English, such as the first edition of the New Testament in the Cherokee language and script; a lectionary in Aztec; two Gospels in two dialects of Romany; several books of the Bible and selections in the Moon type for the Blind; some 50 languages of Native Americans (several of them in the Evans syllabary); and more than 100 languages of Africa. Two manuscript copies of the Koran add a non-Christian dimension to the Collection.
To illustrate the craft of fine printing contemporary with the first printed editions of the Bible, the Rev. Ramseyer also added some examples of fine printing in the form of books by Stephanus and Elzevier and a facsimile of Erasmus' "Praise of Folly" with marginal illustrations by the younger Holbein.
A display of part of the Collection on a particular theme may be found on the fourth floor of the Library. Generally, there are two displays per year, one for the fall semester and one for spring. A computer kiosk describing the history and contents of the Collection is also available for viewing on the second floor of the Library.