Matthew Boulton’s Baskerville Bible

Following the auction of Boulton's Baskerville bible, Dr Caroline Archer-Parre led a consortium of city heritage organisations to save this historical text from joining a private colleciton.


Dr Caroline Archer-Parré

Research background

On 26 March 2020, Boulton’s Baskerville family bible was placed at auction in London by its owners, the Birmingham Assay Office. This particular bible is arguably one of Baskerville’s most important volumes due to the quality of its printing, the splendour of its bindings and the rare use of his endpapers. Annotated by a contemporary hand with details of the Boulton family, it is also of great significance to Birmingham as it represents the relationship between the printer John Baskerville and the industrialist Matthew Boulton, two of the most influential figures in the city’s history.

Given the historical significance of the Boulton Family Baskerville Bible, Dr Archer-Parre felt it imperative the volume should remain in the city. To which end, she led a consortium of city heritage organisations—the Baskerville Society, Cadbury Research Library, Centre for Printing History and Culture, Birmingham Civic Society and the Luna Society—to crowdsource funds to purchase the Bible and ensure the volume remained in Birmingham.

Aims and outcomes

Backing for the campaign was astonishing. Support was received from across the international typographic and bibliographic communities; in addition, faith groups, corporations and organisations, political and public figures and a great number of private individuals all backed the campaign and donated the significant funding required for its purchase.

Thanks to their generosity the Bible was saved for the city and is now housed at the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham, along with its other Baskerville holdings, and has been made publicly available in perpetuity.

Although the aim of the original endeavour was to save the Boulton-Baskerville bible for Birmingham, three additional projects are currently focusing on the bible.

  1.      Cataloguing and archiving the Boulton-Baskerville Bible

The events around the ‘saving’ of the Bible were of such importance they required documenting, cataloguing and preserving for posterity. Work is being undertaken to gather all the relevant material to do with the auction, sale and purchase of the Bible. It is particularly looking at the complexities of cataloguing 100s of emails when no protocols for such cataloguing exist. The result of this work will firstly provide the provenance of the volume for future generations, and secondly it will evolve a new and original method for the collecting, cataloguing and storing ephemeral data such as emails.

  1.      Subscribers to the Baskerville Bible

The second project is considering the subscribers to the original Baskerville Bible and the approaches that can been taken to identify the men and women who, in the eighteenth century, enabled Baskerville’s Bible to happen. The project will compare these original subscribers with those who pledged money to ‘save’ the Bible in the twenty-first century and consider the similarities and divergencies between these two groups of people separated by 250 years.

  1.      Saving the Boulton Baskerville Bible (Caroline Archer)

The third projection is a reflection on the campaign around the saving of this text; the significance of the volume which crossed generations and borders and brought people together for a common and good purpose; and contemplates why one book, printed by one man over 250 year ago stirred the emotions of so many, particularly when set against the backdrop of COVID-19, when eyes were on bigger concerns.

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