Sunday, October 6, 2013


CHINA           The First Book inCHINESE Printed in AmericaCopy with a Great Provenance
(A SURPRISING SURVIVAL).  Bible.  N.T. Matthew. V–VII (Sermon on the Mount). Chinese (High Wenli). 1834. Morrison.  [in Chinese characters, transliterated as] Jiu shi zhu zuo shan jiao xun [i.e., The Sermon on the Mount]. [Boston: Crocker & Brewster for the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, 1834]. 12mo (19.5 x 12.5 cm; 7.5" x 4.75"). [10] 


    •  In Christianity the Sermon on the Mount holds a central position in the heart, soul, and mind of believers, as it is the epitome of the teachings of Christ. This printing of the Sermon is in Chinese characters “from stereoplates cast in Boston” and is thought to be “the first Chinese tract ever stereotyped” (Harvard-Yenching library record); the Spillett catalogue says it is thought to be “the first Chinese book printed [anywhere] from metal plates,” and the copy at the Massachusetts Historical Society has a tipped-in printed note affirming all these things.
It is clearly the first book in Chinese printed in America.

The story of the publication is this: In 1833 the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions asked Dr. Elijah Coleman Bridgman, the first U.S. Protestant missionary to China, to obtain a set of wood printing blocks containing the Sermon on the Mount and a supply of Chinese paper and to send these to Boston. The purpose was to use the wooden blocks to cast stereoplates in hopes that their long-lasting qualities and relatively low amortized cost would obviate the need to develop a system of producing Chinese in roman characters or an entirely new alphabet to be used on presses printing from moveable type. All reports are that only a small number of copies were printed from the plates; the exercise was, after all, an experiment, and indeed a commitment to moveable type was soon made for printing work going forward.
Searches of NUC, WorldCat, and COPAC locate only four holding libraries worldwide of this text, at Harvard-Yenching, Cambridge University (in the collection of the British and Foreign Bible Society), the Boston Athenaeum, and the Massachusetts Historical Society; but we know of a copy at the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, Hartford. All other copies reported are microforms, all taken from the copy at the Yenching Library.

Provenance:  Signature of William Jenks on wrapper with date of 1834. Jenks was a Congregational Minister, member of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and founder of a mission for seamen; he opened the Mariner's Church on Central Wharf, in Boston. Besides his pastorate, he was a scholar and author who taught Oriental Languages and English at Bowdoin College; a member of the American Antiquarian Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society; and a founding member of the American Oriental Society.

•  Spillett, Catalogue of Scriptures in the Languages of China, 36; Darlow & Moule 2481. Not in Shoemaker. On the history of this printing of the Sermon, see: Chinese Recorder, Vols. 10–11, p. 208.   Printed on Chinese paper and bound (sewn) in the Asian style, in yellow wrappers; small piece missing from corner of rear wrapper at spine and another corner chipped and repaired. Housed in a quarter red morocco tray case. A fine copy.  (31850) 

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