Brethren Archive


by Henry Pickering

THE Best Book produced in the best possible manner is what all true lovers of the Bible rejoice to see, handle, and possess.  Amongst the millions of Bible students in all parts of the world who use the "OXFORD BIBLE" bearing the familiar imprint: “London: Henry Frowde, Oxford University Press Warehouse, Amen Corner, E.C.," this statement will be appreciated, for those who have an edition on Oxford India Paper stamped "Oxford binding" have the book described above.
Without controversy, for beautiful clear type, opaque paper, careful printing, neatness and taste in binding and general finish, the "Oxford" books are far ahead of anything ever issued in Bible publishing and are likely to maintain the lead for many years to come. It naturally follows, that information regarding the "Press" or the "Publisher" of the Volume beloved by all, will be of interest, hence we append a few details.
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS claims to be the oldest printing business in Britain, with an unbroken history from the days of Queen Elizabeth.  The first book printed at Oxford bears the date 1468.  The right of the University to print Bibles was first clearly admitted in 1637.  The title page of the first Oxford Bible bears the date 1675.  After many changes, the Press was moved to its present home in Walton Street, Oxford, in 1830.  The Learned or Classical Press, producing standard Works, occupies the north wing, and employs about 300 persons.  The Bible Press occupies the south wing, and employs about 400 persons, with 60 modern printing presses, and produces on an average 3000 copies of the Bible every day.  The skins of 100,000 animals are used every year for the covers of Oxford Bibles alone, and about a million sheets of gold leaf are required for gilt edges and gilt lettering of the volumes.
Amongst the many names associated with the press, four may be mentioned (1) Archbishop LAUD, who was Chancellor, 1630-41, and who obtained the Letters Patent for printing; (2) Dr. JOHN FELL, Bishop of Oxford, well known by the ditty, "I do not love thee, Dr. Fell," who established a type foundry and encouraged the fitting up of the Paper Mill which was to become famous; (3) Professor BARTHOLOMEW PRICE, the dominating personality of the last half-century, of whom it was said "he understood business because he understood men," and (4) Mr. HENRY FROWDE, London publisher of the Bible since 1874, and of both from 1880, who retired in 1913, and whose name will long be remembered as the one who by sterling character, untiring energy, and conspicuous ability, made "Oxford University Press" world famed.
Mr. HENRY FROWDE, who was born in 1841, comes of the same Devonshire stock as J. A. Froude, the famous historian, the names slightly differing.  Although little is known concerning his early Christian course, he has all along companied with Assemblies of brethren more directly associated with the name of the late J. N. Darby.  As a young man in a Bible Warehouse, in Paternoster Row, in 1874, he was selected by Professor Price, head of the eleven delegates who control the Press, as Publisher of the Bible side of the Clarendon Press.  Twelve assistants handled the London work then, now there are over 300.  In the first year, 1875, half a million Scriptures were issued; in his last year, one million and a quarter were sent forth.  The total output during the thirty-nine years of his control is reckoned at twenty-five millions (sometimes wrongly stated as forty millions).
To detail the many interesting episodes and remarkable feats during these years would fill volumes, we select two outstanding achievements.
The issue of the REVISED NEW TESTAMENT was acknowledged by the trade journals to be "the greatest publishing feat on record."  At 11.55 on 16th May, 1881, not a single copy had been issued; at midnight the doors of the warehouse were thrown open, the crowd like a fair which filled Paternoster Row surged in, and by midday, every bookseller in-the kingdom had copies.  Over a million were sent out on the first day of issue, and nearly a million more were required for urgent repeat orders.  Many attempts were made to procure advance copies of the Testament.  A printer in Oxford was secretly offered £2000 for a copy, an American firm offered £5000 for an advance copy; Mr. Frowde's signature was forged to an order for a book, yet the secret was honourably kept.  The next best thing was done, the type was set up on board the steamer which carried the books to America, and within two days of the arrival of the vessel, copies were being sold by the thousand.
The whole of the Gospels, Acts, and Romans, consisting of 118,000 words, were telegraphed from New York to Chicago at a cost of £2000, and appeared in the Chicago Times of 22nd May, 1881.
A similar event occurred when the complete REVISED BIBLE was issued in 1885.  Yet this is the Book which was to be extinct a hundred years ago.
The romance of INDIA PAPER, which has revolutionised Bible and book production, had a peculiar beginning.  In 1842, an Oxford graduate brought home a specimen of paper from the East.  Twenty-four copies of the smallest Bible then in existence were printed upon it.  They were not sold but presented to Queen Victoria and others. Nothing more was done till Mr. Frowde became manager, then experiments resulted in the discovery of the secret of making Oxford India Paper, now world famed and incomparable for toughness and opaqueness, and about one-third the thickness of the ordinary paper.  Most of the paper is made at Wolvercote Mill, two miles from Oxford, owned by the University Press.  The secret of manufacture is said even now to be known by only two or three persons intimately connected with the work.
Henceforward, the Bibles will bear the imprint of HUMPHREY MILFORD, who joined the Press in Oxford in 1900, and since 1906, has been associated with Mr. Frowde in London.  May the next forty years witness a continued increase in the circulation of the Book, which alone can guide into the Way of Life, cheer the rugged path, and so instruct "that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.'' HyP.
"The Believer's Pathway" v35 1914.


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