Enoch Brooks’ Curious Book

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, or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth. Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1788. Imagination Gallery B. American Treasures of the Library of Congress

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.

“A little Boy and Girl reading”. In A Little Pretty Pocket-Book:…. Worcester, Mass.: Isaiah Thomas, 1787. p 78. Rare Book Selections. Rare Book & Special Collections Division
Masthead and part of front page of The Massachusetts Spy…. Paul Revere, artist; Illus in: The Massachusetts spy, or, Thomas’s Boston journal. Boston: Isaiah Thomas, July 7, 1774. Serial & Government Publications

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 SocietyExternal (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.

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