Restored King James Bible Ready for Its Unveiling

“It was so damaged ... my job was to make it usable again,” says 2015 Schleg Lecturer

Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.
Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.
Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.
Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.
Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.
Albion College's 1611 first-edition King James Bible, before and after its restoration.

October 5, 2015 | By Chuck Carlson

In the insular and technical world of book restoration, there was only one word to describe what kind of shape the Albion College copy of the historic first-edition King James Bible was in. 

“Terrible,” Marieka Kaye said.

And she should know. In more than 15 years as a book conservationist and restorer, she has seen many books in various stages of terrible, and this qualified.  

Damaged by water and sunlight and exposure and the simple ravages of the centuries, the Bible, which dates back to 1611, was a mess.

“It was so damaged,” said Kaye, a conservation and book conservator from the University of Michigan’s Department of Preservation and Conservation who has spent the past two years putting the Bible back together.

“It was in the saddest shape imaginable,” said Justin Seidler, the College’s Stockwell-Mudd Library archivist and special collections librarian.

But on Tuesday, October 6, Kaye will unveil a restoration project that few people, save for Kaye, thought was possible.

“My job was to make it usable again,” she said. “I’ve been working in conservation since 1998 and I’ve had a lot of experience with this. I knew I could get it back together. I enjoy that the messier something is the better, because there is such a feeling of satisfaction.”

Kaye will discuss the restoration project as the guest speaker at the College’s annual Marilyn Crandell Schleg Memorial Lecture, set for 7 p.m. in the Bobbitt Visual Arts Center auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

And the guest of honor? That will be the Bible itself—restored, cleaned and ready to return to the College.

Asked how it looks, Seidler, who took over as library archivist a year ago and has immersed himself in the restoration with Kaye over the past few months, just smiled.

“It’s more than OK,” he said. “Marieka really knows what she’s doing.”

University of Michigan conservator Marieka Kaye spent nearly two years over nights and weekends restoring Albion College's first-edition King James Bible, page by page.
University of Michigan conservator Marieka Kaye spent the last two years over nights and weekends restoring Albion College's first-edition King James Bible, page by page.

Kaye, a member of the American Institute for Conservation who works full-time doing restorations at Michigan, toiled on the Albion Bible in her spare time, at night and on weekends.

“The hardest part was the repair of the pages,” she said. “The volume of pages that needed to be done, that took me the longest. I had to re-create parts of pages and that took a long time.”

But for as much work that needed to be done and for all the damage it had undergone, the result has been stunning.

“I’ve been working on it so much,” said Kaye, who estimates she has spent more than 80 hours on the project. “Every page had to be cleaned and almost every page had a repair to be done. Big chunks of pages were missing.”

According to John Kondelik, emeritus director of libraries, the Bible was part of a large collection of books donated to Albion by 1894 graduate William Longstreet in 1940, but which wasn't catalogued until the 1990s.

Historically, the King James Version is an English translation of the Christian Bible compiled for the Church of England under the auspices of England’s King James I. The work began in 1604 and was completed in 1611, and is considered a major achievement in English literature.

“It’s very rare,” Kaye said of the Bible. “It is a really important book and most special collections try to have a copy of it. It was the first Bible that was legally allowed to be printed in English.”

Albion contacted Kaye to restore its deteriorating copy and, with the help and sizable donations from the Albion Class of 1963, Kaye was able to painstakingly put the book back together.

Seidler believes the Bible suffered much of its damage by being out in public for years, exposed to the elements.

And he vows not to let that happen to the restored Bible.

He said it will have its home in Albion but won’t go on public display. His plan is to develop policies on how to handle it and allow for research appointments to view it so it can last for years.

“I’m professionally paranoid about having it here,” he said with a smile.

For Kaye, her lecture is a chance to bring the relatively unknown subject of book restoration into the light. And it’s a chance to show off the project on which she has spent so much time.

“I’m pretty proud of it,” Kaye said. “It’s definitely a different book now. It’s usable and it will probably stay that way for a long time. I’m excited to get it back to Albion.”