Brown’s Self-Interpreting Family Bible by the Rev. John Brown, Illustrated, c. 1880

Brown’s Self-Interpreting Family Bible with Copious Critical and Explanatory Notes and Practical Reflections, by the Rev. John Brown of Haddington, and Many Thousand Marginal References and Readings; Also, the Text More Fully Elucidates by Several thousand Explanatory and Critical Notes and Introductory Observations on Each Book. By the Rev. Henry Cooke, D.D., LL.D. Together with the Apocryphal, Concordance, Psalms in Metre, Chronological Index. Embellished with Elegant Full-Page Steel Engravings. New York and Philadelphia: William T. Amies, c. 1880. Illustrated. Large quarto, with original full leather carved and gilt tooled boards. Presented with a custom-made archival clamshell box with gilt tooling.

Presented is a beautifully restored and exquisitely bound Brown’s Self Interpreting Family Bible. Brown’s Self-Interpreting Family Bible was first published in 1778 in two volumes in Edinburgh. The Self-Interpreting Bible was Reverend Brown's most significant work and it remained in print well into the twentieth century.  Although undated, this family bible was published by William T. Amies, in New York and Philadelphia, circa 1880. 

Reverend John Brown (1722-1787) was a Scottish Minister of the Gospel at Haddington. He wrote numerous works on the bible, including The Dictionary of the Bible, A General History of the Christian Church, and Brown’s Self Interpreting Family Bible, as seen here. 

The design of the Self Interpreting Bible, Brown explained in the original preface, was “to present the labours of the best commentators in a manner that might best comport with the ability and leisure of the poorer and labouring part of mankind, and especially to render the oracles of God their own interpreter.” Thus, the work contains a thorough history, chronology, geography, and summary, as well as explanatory notes and reflections, on the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. As this was printed as a “self-interpreting” bible, many of these notes occur in the margins, next to the pertaining scripture. This bible is further elucidated by upwards of eight thousand explanatory and critical notes, as well as introductory and concluding observations on each book, by the Reverend Henry Cooke, D.D., LL.D., a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Belfast. 

The publisher’s advertisement for this exact bible was printed in the January-July 1880 issue of The American Bookseller journal. The advertisement claims, “Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible is widely and most favorably known on both sides of the Atlantic. It is pre-eminently A Family Bible, suitable alike for all the members of the household and particularly Helpful in explaining difficult passages, and admirably adapted to promote a Devotional spirit. Also, its unusually Clear Type makes it an excellent Book for Pulpit use, while the Notes and Comments render it particularly useful to the Clergyman, the Student, and all who would understand the Word of God.”

This bible was produced as a family bible, to be handed down through a family with each successive generation. Family bibles were used as a marker of each married couple’s journey through life and the family’s history was commonly recorded in the bible. This bible features pages for family portraits, as well as places to record family births, deaths, and marriages. The family pages of this bible are blank, and could still be filled in and used as originally intended by whoever purchases this bible. Family bibles, often very large and elaborately decorated, first came into popularity during the Victorian era in the United Kingdom. Afterwards, the family bible was seen throughout Europe and eventually made its way into American households.

This bible’s period binding is exquisite, with full black leather boards stamped, embossed, and engraved with intricate gilt details. The front and back boards both feature a deeply carved crucifix detailed in gilt and borders filled with gilt tooling of flowers, leaves, and interlocking circles. This bible is further embellished with black and white illustrations throughout. All full page illustrations, these scenes were printed as steel engravings. Several full-color pages, most notably a stunning “Presentation” page, were printed in variations of bright red, gold, sage, and cobalt blue.

The advent of the printing press encouraged the craft of books that the small, literate class valued well as works of art. In the late 19th century, several publishers sought to elevate the book back to a piece of artistry that would be cherished for generations to come, and used expensive leathers, gilt details, and elegant engraved illustrations to do so. These sumptuously bound special editions of bibles, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and poetry countered the popularity of cheaper, popular dime novels.


Very good condition. Original carved front and back boards in full black leather, with intricate gilt tooling and accents. The spine has raised bands, gilt titles, and tooling. Gilded edges.

Illustrated throughout, with full-page black and white steel engravings and printed colored pages. Blank family pages, to include family marriages, births, and deaths, and portrait pages. Pages are healthy and in good condition. Illustrations are in very good condition. 

The bible has been professionally restored and preserved. Bible is housed in a new, custom-made full black leather clamshell case. Case is archival and features gilt stamps to the front and gilt titles and tooling to the spine.

Bible Dimensions: 13" H x 11" W x 4 3/8" D. Slipcase Dimensions: 14 3/8" H x 12" W x 5 1/4" D. 

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