Can a Bible be both antique and rare … and yet still not be very valuable? Yes, absolutely. That may seem counter-intuitive at first, but let’s consider this more carefully. Antiquity is attained simply through age. Rarity is attainted simply through scarcity. But for something to also be truly valuable, there has to be market demand for it. That demand generally implies particular historical relevance.
For example, there are antique Bibles of the late 1700’s, printed in England, that are not historically significant editions. They are merely generic King James Version printings of standard quarto size or smaller, with no special features, no illustrations, no commentary notes, typeset in a rather plain manner. They are unquestionably antique, and also fairly rare… but… who cares? They do not represent an important edition, or even a particularly aesthetically desirable edition. If they are in good shape, by virtue of the fact that they are late 1700’s Bibles, they will be worth at least a few hundred dollars… but not thousands of dollars. These type of Bibles are often picked up by the person on tight budget who just wants to own a very old Bible, and that’s great, but it is not really of interest to the serious collector.
Even among Bibles that are ancient and rare and valuable, we still see that market demand, which we might also refer to as general popularity, can dictate price in a way that is unexpected to many. An example of this would be the current market value of a 1611 King James Pulpit Folio First Edition Bible, which is generally $150,000 to $450,000, even though there are close to 200 of these extant today, making them only moderately rare. In contrast, a 1560 Geneva Bible First Edition would have a market value of closer to just $75,000 to $125,000, in spite of the fact that there are not more than a dozen of them extant today! Ironically, the far less rare Bible is worth far more. This is for one simple reason: the market demand for the beloved and immensely popular 1611 KJV Bible far outstrips the market demand for the less well known 1560 Geneva Bible… even though the 1560 Geneva Bible very historically important, and about twenty times as rare, and 51 years older than the 1611 KJV.
Another aspect that could potentially disqualify an antique and rare Bible from being valuable is condition. No matter how old or rare a Bible is, if it is not complete, or not in good condition, its market value will be severely negatively impacted. Given two antique Bibles of the same edition, if one is missing several pages and has cropped headlines and heavy oxidization, that less desirable copy might fetch only one-tenth the price of the one in more pristine condition. More details on this can be found by reading our helpful Antique Bible Buyer’s Guide.