Inside the Library of Congress’ copy of a rare children’s Bible, someone carefully wrote “Enoch Brooks’ Book, Princeton, March 13th, 1789,” in ink, with a flourish. The inscription likely refers to Enoch Brooks, Jr., of Princeton, Massachusetts, born in 1785, who would have been too young to write it himself. Now a rare artifact of Americana, Brooks’ book is one of only a few known copies of A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, printed in 1788 by Isaiah Thomas in nearby Worcester, Massachusetts. This book was the first American version of a novelty Bible that replaced some words with pictures to encourage children’s interest as well as their reading skills. With nearly five hundred woodcuts by American artists, this Bible was also the most ambitious woodcut volume produced in America up to that time.
A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible is one of more than a hundred children’s book titles published by Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831). A preeminent early American printer and pioneer publisher of children’s literature, Thomas began his apprenticeship as a young boy in Boston, working under Zechariah Fowle. Over the course of a long career, Thomas published more than four hundred titles in many editions, for adults as well as for children, including the first dictionary printed in America. Also a bookseller, he eventually owned more than twenty bookstores in several states.
One of Thomas’ most significant ventures was The Massachusetts Spy, a newspaper he founded with Fowle in 1770. Widely read and exceedingly anti-British, his paper so angered Tory authorities that just three days before the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, Thomas was forced to smuggle his press out of Boston. He fled to Worcester, Massachusetts, where he quickly set up shop and remained as a resident for the next fifty-six years.
After the war, Thomas created the highly regarded Massachusetts Magazine, a literary publication and authored A History of Printing in America (1810)—the nation’s first such history, and still a significant resource today. His most enduring legacy, however, is the American Antiquarian Society External (AAS), which he established in Worcester in 1812, serving as its president until his death. Thomas willed his considerable library to the AAS. From his original 8,000-item collection, the Society’s library has grown to include copies of two-thirds of everything printed in the United States through 1821. It remains one of the most complete collections of early American printed works in existence. By contrast, the Library of Congress holds more than 16,000 U.S. imprints from 1640 to 1800, which is almost half of all that were printed.
- Read the full text (with pictures, of course) of Enoch Brooks’ Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, part of the Library’s digitized Rare Book Selections.
- See the full list of Library of Congress holdings of works printed by Isaiah Thomas, as well as those written about him, by searching the Library of Congress online catalog. Search using Isaiah Thomas as a keyword.
- Explore the Library of Congress’ extensive holdings of early American printed materials in online collections including Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera and Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. Early printed works can also be found in the American Treasures of the Library of Congress.
- These collections are only a sample of the unique materials found in the Rare Book & Special Collections Reading Room, now totaling over 800,000 items, including books, broadsides, pamphlets, theater playbills, title pages, prints, posters, photographs, and medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. A cornerstone of these holdings is Thomas Jefferson’s book collection, sold to Congress in 1815 after the British burned the United States Capitol.
- Read a variety of fully-digitized children’s books, many with elaborate illustrations, as well as The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook, among the Rare Books & Special Collections digitized materials.
- Learn more about significant American Bibles in the Library’s Bible Collections, including the First Complete Bible Printed in America, Lincoln’s Inaugural Bible, The Woman’s Bible and The St. John’s Bible. View a videocast on The Bible in American Public Life by scholar Mark Noll.