What is a Bible worth?

Published April 2, 2008

In recognition of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, our municipality gave them a Bible. The gift was befitting because they were known in their close-knit farming community as regular churchgoers. They were touched by the tribute and placed the Bible prominently in their home.

The Bible is a modest copy: the title on the white cover is brassy, the paper coarse, and the colour photographs pallid. Yet my parents deemed it of value because it was the means by which their community saluted their long marriage of fidelity and affection. That civic officials chose to use a religious book shows Bibles are in a category all their own.

Ironically, most Bibles hold little monetary value. Janet Carlile, an accredited antique appraiser, regularly assesses items at fund-raising events for charitable organizations such as public libraries and local museums. Bibles come up frequently.

Ms. Carlile is invariably diplomatic as she lets people down because Bibles are never worth what is hoped for.

She knows that while they are “near and dear to people’s hearts, the majority are worth less than $50 and some a good deal less.” In a career spanning three decades, the most expensive Bible she recalls sold for $1,200 and it was a very unusual volume.

People bring Bibles to Ms. Carlile because they are often the oldest item in their homes. Tucked away in a cupboard in my parents’ den is a set of Swedish Bibles brought here by my maternal great great-grandparents when they immigrated. Although the language was lost many generations ago, the Bibles were not. Their yellowed pages, brittle leather binding, and foreign words belie their status as an heirloom. They are the only tangible link with our Swedish heritage and as such are valued.

Many Bibles are big, beautiful books. Produced in large quantities and instant best-sellers, publishers can afford to use fine quality materials. Staff at the Master’s Way Book Store in Pembroke, Ont., say Bibles are a popular gift to commemorate a first communion or confirmation. New translations are always sought after and the Catholic Bible and King James Version are perpetually in demand.

Some people cherish a Bible even though it is an unremarkable edition because it was a source of comfort, strength, or advice at an emotional time. Bev York, a lay reader at St. Augustine’s church in Beachburg, Ont., treasures her Bible because she relied on it through trying times of illness and bereavement. She also holds dear a Bible that belonged to her mother and one that she rescued from a garbage chute.

For Christian faith communities, a Bible is a collection of sacred writings. The content between the covers is the source of value, not the trappings. This leads to an answer to my original question: a Bible has an incalculable worth.

Patti Desjardins lives near Westmeath, Ont.


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