Duluth News-Tribune Herald
Page 2-A
 January 21, 1983

UMD will display collection of Bibles

By Sandy Battin
Staff writer

Library Director Donald Pearce with 13th century Hebrew Torah 
A first edition copy of the King James Bible printed in 1611, a leather scroll of the Hebrew Torah dating from the 13th century and a large collection of translations of the Bible into American Indian languages will go on Display Saturday, at UMD. 

The books are part of a 1,250-volume gift to the university from the Northern Bible Society in recognition of the Rev. Henry Ramseyer, secretary  of the society and collector of the Bibles. 

"It's difficult to assess their value," said James Vileta, UMD archivist, "because experts who appraise books disagree on worth.  But one appraisal two years ago indicated the collection was worth over a quarter million dollars.  Other appraisers indicate they're worth more than that." 

The volumes have been sorted, reconditioned, and classified since 1979 when the university received them.  Books in more than 750 languages are included. 

A public open house will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Library with a special program set for 3 p.m.. Featuring presentation of a Trustees Society plaque to Robert Fleischmann, chairman of the society's board of directors. 

The event also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the society's home and museum at 715 W. Superior St., which has since been closed. 

The collection has scholastic value, said Donald Pearce, UMD library director, both in terms of tracing immigrants moving into the area through the society's procurement of bibles in newcomers' languages and for linguistic and theological study. 

Art scholars also may be interested in the illustrations in many of the books, he said.  Religious historians can study changes in worship habits and services through study of accompanying prayer books, catechisms hymnals and such. 

The books have been placed in a specially designed vault, where they're protected from light and dust.  The real problem in the locality is the low humidity," Pearce said.  We've got them in a room with as controlled an environment as we can get. 

"It has a false ceiling to protect them from roof leaks.  We try to hod it at 60 degrees.  An ideal humidity is 40 to 50 percent but we can't get it that high.  The biggest danger is temperature fluctuation.  The lower you can get the temperature, the better it is." 

Some of the books will be on display in dust-resistant glass cabinets in the Library for six months at a time.  Filters over potentially damaging lights and windows will be installed. 

Pearce believes the collection is one of the best in the Midwest.  "Two people from the rare book staff on the main campus came and they were very impressed, very envious," he said. 

Artifacts including coins, a ram's horn, clay lamps [replicas] and pots from the time of Christ are also in the collection. 

None of the books can be checked out of the Library but they can be shown to scholars and groups. 


Among the highlights of the collection are:  

  • Hebrew Torah scrolls hand written on leather and parchment, rare because most such documents were destroyed when worn out "so they would not fall into impious hands or be used for unworthy purposes," according to library documents.
  • Greek editions from the 16th century, which were the first "pocket-size" books.
  • Stephanaus' 1545 edition of the Bible, the first to divide chapters into verse, but which  "proved too Calvinistic."  He was forced to flee for his life from Paris to Geneva.
  • Translations of the Bible into American Indian dialects for which new alphabets were created.
  • The Geneva bible, which became known as the Breeches Bible because it translated Adam and Eve's first fig leaf garments as "breeches" rather than as accepted "aprons."
  • Copies of the scriptures into the languages of St. Louis County including Ukrainian, Danish, Lappish, Czech, Italian and Serbian.

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