The Scottish Bible was printed in 1705 and contained a written record of the original owners' family inside.
A bookstore owner in Indianola, Iowa made a truly remarkable discovery in the back of a local retirement home’s community library — a 318-year-old Scottish Bible.
“I started looking into it and I fell into a rabbit hole,” Kathy Magruder, owner of Pageturner Books, told Local 12 News.
Magruder had initially been invited by the Calvin Community retirement facility in Des Moines to comb through their library and see if she could find anything of value.
“There were a lot of older books which were fun, and I chose those, but I saw this on a shelf,” she told the Independent Advocate. “It doesn’t look like anything special. I said, ‘You know, I think that one is kind of old. … I’m going to have to research that one because I can’t even make an offer until I have some idea what it is.'”
Almost immediately, Magruder said she noticed something special about the old, dust-covered book. Its leather binding and musty, worn pages told their own kind of story.
“This one, just something about it, when I open it up, the pages make a noise when you turn them that’s a little different than a new book, they feel a little different, and the book smells a little different than any other book,” Magruder said.
And the more she looked into it, the more she uncovered about this ages-old tome.
Magruder’s research informed her that the leather-bound Bible was printed in Selkirkshire, Scotland in 1705. It also seems that the book may have been printed illegally, meaning it lacked the oversight of the church. At the time, this was an offense punishable by death.
In order to discover how this Bible made it all the way from Scotland to Iowa, Magruder knew she would have to first figure out who the book’s original owners were. Normally, this would prove to be a rather difficult task, since there was no record from the nursing home about who had donated it. But a stroke of luck occurred as Magruder leafed through the book.
There, in the middle of the Bible, was a handwritten account of a family’s history.
The years had certainly shown their effect on the paper. It was yellowed and smudged, but Magruder could make out, clearly, writing that said a man named James Burnet had married Janet Scott in 1761, and that the couple had three daughters. Another entry from 1773 read, “Janet Scott my Spouse Died on Wednesday third Day of Novm 1773 Aged 33 years of the Smallpox.”
The entries continued, explaining that the couple’s daughter Gideona had married a man named Archibald Dunlap in 1798, and that they had nine children together. Their last child was born in 1814, but after that, the trail ran cold.
So, Magruder went back further. She started looking into the printer behind the Bible, and traced it to a company owned by one Andrew Anderson, who worked as a printer in London in the 1650s. Odd, because Magruder’s copy of the Bible said it was printed in 1605.
She posted about the manuscript in a Facebook group, and another rare book collector informed Magruder that this specific copy of the Bible had a well documented copyright misprint — and that it had actually been printed 100 years later, in 1705.
A friend who specializes in book restoration also informed Magruder that the words “Cum Privilegio” on the Bible’s title page indicated that the printers had been given explicit permission from the British monarchy to conduct their trade.
“To publish, you had to be certified basically, and if you weren’t, they would track you down and try you and execute you,” Magruder said. “This was really dangerous stuff.”
But even though Magruder was able to determine the book’s origins, she never could unlock all of its mysteries. Its journey from Scotland to a nursing home in Iowa, unfortunately, may never be fully known. And since she couldn’t find the descendants of the original owners, Magruder ended up selling the Bible to a local collector — a decisions which she said made her happy.
“You know, I found it totally fascinating,” she said. “And I’m never sure if other people are going to find things as interesting maybe as I do. It’s really gratifying that yes other people are as interested in that as I am.”
After reading about the fascinating mystery of this 318-year-old Bible, learn about the never-before-seen chapter of the Bible found in the Vatican library. Or, read about the 384-year-old shopping list found beneath the floorboards of a historic English home.