Robert Aitken Sign
From Jerry Newcombe’s column on Quoting the Bible (early October 2023):
When Bibles that had been printed in England ran out during the 1770s, the framers even voted to recommend a Bible published by a Philadelphia-based printer.
In the streets of Philadelphia, to this day, not too far from Penn’s Landing and Delaware River Waterfront, you can see a sign highlighting the Robert Aiken Bibles.
Here’s what the sign says: “Robert Aitken (1734-1802). An influential revolutionary-era printer, he operated a shop on this block. In 1782, Aitken printed the nation’s first complete English Bible. It received the endorsement from Congress and was the only new Bible available to colonists due to printing restrictions and import embargoes.”
Photo by Jerry Newcombe
Here are some notes from Dr. Peter Lillback, founding president of Providence Forum, on this story, sent in an email to Jerry Newcombe (10/3/23):
“Congress even permitted Aitken to print in his version their recommendation of the Bible to the American people.
“Some history: Bibles ran out in America because of non-importation, and the fact that Bibles in the English speaking language could only be printed in England and Scotland by law, so there was a shortage of Bibles. As a result, attempts were made to import Bibles from the Netherlands, but that was not able to be implemented due to lack of funds; and Philadelphia fell to the British, and Congress had to flee.
“In the coming years, Philadelphia printer Robert Aitken determined to publish a Bible in the English language in America. He was able to complete it by 1782. As the war was not over yet, this was still technically illegal from the English perspective.
“He submitted his Bible to Congress for their review, and they reviewed it via a committee. They found it to be well done, and desired to recommend it to the American people. They communicated to Aitken that their recommendation could be printed in Aitken’s Bible.
“As a result, it has become known as Congress’ Bible.
“When the war ended the following year, Bibles were able to be imported again. This nearly put Aitkin out of business as his price was higher than what the imports were.
“Only 10,000 were printed, and most of them have disappeared. The ones that still remain are sold for nearly $100,000.”