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Parson’s 20-feet of Bible is bought for its illustrations

by a staff reporter

Click to enlarge

Leaves on the line: illustrations from the Revd Franke Parker’s Bible. The prints were lightly fixed into the Bible, allowing them to be removed easily. Few were captioned, though Adam and Eve, Susanna and the Elders, and Judith (below left) are easily identified DOMINIC WINTER AUCTIONS

Leaves on the line: illustrations from the Revd Franke Parker’s Bible. The prints were lightly fixed into the Bible, allowing them to be removed easily. Few were captioned, though Adam and Eve, Susanna and the Elders, and Judith (below left) are easily identified DOMINIC WINTER AUCTIONS

A 10th-century cleric's 63-volume Bible, thought to be one of the largest in the world, has been sold at auction for £47,000.

A Macklin Bible, produced in 1800 and bound in six or seven volumes, normally sells for £500-800. What made last week’s Bible unique was that the Revd Franke Parker, Rector of Luffincott, in Devon, had collected more than 9000 Old Master prints and engravings to illustrate the text.

He completed his project in 1883, rebinding the work into 63 volumes, each 20 inches tall, taking up 20 feet of shelf space. On his death, he bequeathed his collection to “the Bishoprick of Cornwall”, where it swelled the library being assembled by the Rt Revd Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter, which covered Cornwall at that time.

The Bible is one of the first items from the Bishop Phillpotts Library to come up for auction. Earlier this autumn, the diocese of Truro sold all the pre-1800 volumes in the collection to a book dealer. The sold items filled three vans, and the trustees of the library received £36,000.

The Franke Parker Bible filled most of a van on its own. The dealer passed it on to the auction house Dominic Winter in South Cerney, near Cirencester, which put it into its fine-arts auction last week, attracting considerable interest from the art trade. One Italian specialist spent two days looking through the volumes. Another dealer brought in a team of four to work their way through the Bible.

The auctioneer, Chris Albury, said: “We knew that this was a great item, but it was very hard to value. While the prints were generally of a religious nature and included a lot of 19th-century ones, which had no value, there were also about 100 good chalk drawings from the 17th and 18th century, and engravings dating back to the 16th century.” The Bible easily passed its £7-10,000 estimate, and went to an anonymous British phone bidder.

Mr Albury said this week that the buyer had already extracted the prints and drawings he wanted, about 300 of them. He hoped that the Bible, still with about 9000 illustrations, could be resold to an American institution, which had expressed interest during the auction.

The size of the bids for the Bible raises questions about the diocese’s method of sale. But the diocesan librarian, Nona Wright, explained this week that the library had been unable to cover the insurance costs of the valuable collection assembled by Bishop Phillpotts in the 19th century. There was also a problem of space. Few, if any, of the sold books had been accessed in the past decade.

The library is in the process of computerising its remaining collection, and will make it available online.

 

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