Approximate Reading Time, 3 minutes.
The Vinegar Bible was printed by John Baskett (1664-1742), a man of significant influence in the world of printing. He and his supporters wanted to improve both the quality and the appearance of the Bibles being printed. The idea was to produce a folio edition of the King James Bible that would reflect the decisions made by the original translators that had somehow become lost in the intervening years. This Bible would be a presentation piece for use in churches and the homes of the aristocracy. Some of the obsolete language would be added into a glossary. It was meant to be a very special print run. To this end Baskett had new decorative initials made as well as new engraved plates.
Though Baskett produced one of the most magnificent Bibles ever printed in England, he had a shady business reputation and was often criticized for his business dealings, carrying significant debts, and facing numerous legal challenges. Basketts practices were criticized and condemned, the legal challenges he faced meant that he was often stretched financially, struggling to pay his rent and mortgaging the Bible presses to the hilt. Despite all this, Baskett was successful in many aspects of his printing work. Using the presses in Oxford and London he was able to achieve economies of scale, storing large amounts of printed paper in his London warehouses. He also used local labor, again reducing costs. By 1712, John Baskett was now the Royal Printer to the Queen, and he had successfully negotiated deals with Oxford and Cambridge (the only other two printing houses authorized to print the Bible in England) to operate their printing privileges himself.
In securing his monopoly on printing Bibles in England, Baskett put an end to the exclusive patent that had been in the Barker family for over 100 years. Baskett achieved success in multiple facets of his printing work. He increased Bible quality and appearance by adding many new engravings and decorated initials. The text is the King James Version of the English Bible and was printed in large folio by John Baskett at Oxford in 1716-17.
The beauty and quality of the Vinegar Bible is truly stunning. With a richly decorated gold gilt spine and numerous engravings throughout, it served as an ideal status symbol for the elite. Baskett’s Vinegar Bible is generally acknowledged as the most magnificent Bible printed in England. The volume is adorned with numerous beautiful engraved head and tailpieces depicting scenes from the Bible – about 60 illustrations altogether.
So why the nickname, the Vinegar Bible?
Once this beautiful Bible made its way into the hands of the clergy, numerous errors and omissions in the text were discovered. When reviewed it was commented that the Bible was a; ‘Baskett-ful of errors’. The quote remains to this day to describe something being full of errors and faults, not fit for purpose; ‘A complete basket case’. The Vinegar Bible gets its name from the most famous of the errors in the 1717 printing. The headline of Luke 20 reads, “the parable of the vinegar” (instead of vineyard).