The Morgan Collection includes a 1540 printing of the Great Bible, the first Bible authorized by the English crown. The title page of the New Testament shows King Henry VIII (1491-1547) distributing the word of God. — Brandon Wason, Head of Special Collections, Pitts Theology Library
Pitts Theology Library at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology has acquired a major collection of English Bibles and related literature containing more than 5,500 volumes and dating from the 16th century to today.
With an estimated value of more than $2.5 million, the world-renowned collection was bequeathed to Pitts by J. Michael Morgan, a private collector and longtime friend of the library who served as organist at Atlanta’s Central Presbyterian Church and Columbia Theological Seminary. Morgan died on Christmas Day 2022 at age 74.
The J. Michael Morgan English Bible and Psalmody Collection contains English-language translations of the Bible, Psalters (books of Psalms), musical settings of Psalms and other biblical texts, copies of the Book of Common Prayer, and related devotional and liturgical materials from across the past six centuries.
“The Morgan Collection is one of the world’s most significant private collections of English Bibles, known to collectors around the globe and experienced by groups around the country,” says Richard Manly “Bo” Adams, Jr., director of Pitts Theology Library and Margaret A. Pitts Assistant Professor in the Practice of Theological Bibliography. “Pitts is honored to be the home of this Bible collection and excited about continuing the work of our friend Michael Morgan, who understood his calling to be not only preserving these treasures, but ensuring they were accessible to the general public.”
A self-described individual of modest financial means, Morgan spent 50 years amassing the collection “on a church organist’s salary,” as he often quipped. He pursued a focused collection that documents the development of the Bible from the early 16th century forward, both as a religious text and as a printed artifact.
The collection includes some of the most influential Bibles in the English language, such as the first printed English translations from the early 1500s, notably the translations of William Tyndale (1494-1536) and Miles Coverdale (1488-1569). Early printings of all the “Big Bibles”—like greatest hits—of the 16th century, including the Matthew Bible (1537), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560), and the Bishops’ Bible (1568), are included.
Though not the oldest volume, one of the jewels of the collection is a 1611 “He” Bible, the original printing of the King James Version. “‘He’ Bibles are so named because of a typesetting error made in the first print run, where the word ‘He’ was printed in Ruth 3:15, when it should have read ‘She,’” Adams explains. The mistake was corrected in subsequent printings of the King James, often called “She” Bibles; the Morgan Collection includes a first edition “She” Bible as well.
The collection also contains dozens of rare independent translations, such as the American Psalter of Cotton Mather, as well as items with unique origins: Isaac Watts’ paraphrase of the Psalms with a gift inscription from Watts; a Bible translated and signed by Julia Evelina Smith, the first woman to translate the Bible into English; and the family Bible of President Franklin Pierce, signed by President Jimmy Carter.
Read more at Emory.edu.