Collections of Distinction

Book of Common Prayer

Benton 2The Benton Collection of Editions of the Book of Common Prayer is one of the most abundant existing collections of its kind. It includes first-edition copies of the first Prayer Book of 1549, King Edward’s second Prayer Book of 1552, Queen Elizabeth’s Book of 1559, King James of 1604, and five copies of the final alteration of 1662 in addition to hundreds of other imprints. It also contains some of the scarcest English Primers, the Scottish Liturgy of 1637, and the first Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland of 1721.

Another significant feature of the collection is the nearly 100 translations ranging from Greek and Latin to Turkish, Chinese and the dialects of African, Australian, and Polynesian tribes. The American branch contains such wonders as the first American edition of 1710, the Mohawk Prayer Book of 1715, Benjamin Franklin’s Abridgement of 1773, and the Liturgy of the first Episcopal Church in Boston, 1785.

The original collection was bequeathed by Boston Public Library trustee Josiah H. Benton in 1919. It began with 658 volumes and now numbers well over 1,500. The multiple editions and revisions of the Book of Common Prayer represent not only the history of book-making and binding but also a religious history of England. The multitude of miniature books, thin pamphlets, beautifully bound quartos, and ornate folios afford an unusual insight into the church’s faith, struggles, and worship. A majority of the books are in original bindings, including vellum and oakboard with metal clasps as well as morocco covers. Numerous books also have multiple book-plates with signatures of previous owners, a few of who were major contributors in the story of the Prayer Book such as Archbishop Juxon and Bishop Wren.

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