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By Louise Fiske

Lot 16 Catalog 484 can be seen Here

Gutenberg Printing Press

Printing the Bible was an important and very lucrative business of many printing houses including both the Cambridge and Oxford University Press.  In 1711 John Baskett, who at the time was the King’s printer, joined the Oxford University Press just at a time when the press was moved from the basement of the Sheldonian Theatre to the newly built Clarendon building next door.

John Baskett

By this point in his career, Baskett had gained a reputation for unscrupulously buying up competing Bible printing businesses whose finances were precarious and whose legal position was constantly being challenged as Baskett sought to achieve a monopoly.

In 1717, his publishing career turned for the worse when he issued this richly-engraved folio Bible.  Quick to point out the Bible’s numerous misprints, Bskett’s competitors branded it “a Baskett-ful of Errors.”  This particular Bible is nicknamed as “Vinegar Bible,” because the worlds “Parable of the Vinegar” appear at the top of the page containing Luke 20-9, Christ’s Parable of the Vineyard.

it was criticized by the clergy for its omissions and misspellings. It was saved from becoming a complete point of ridicule because in many instances it was intended to be shown rather than read, it would be displayed prominently and would reflect the owners wealth. It was richly bound in crimson leather with gilt edging and the new initial beautifully colored. The large Bible was designed to sit splendidly upon the lectern in a church and of course in this situation it was expected to be read from, alas the errors it contained made this problematic.

A great deal of hostility was projected towards John Baskett as he continued to defend and extend his monopoly. He challenged the Edinburgh and the Dublin printers; whose anger was immense at being turned over by what they considered to be a greatly inferior quality and more costly printed Bible.

By the 1718 the Oxford press was mortgaged to the hilt, nevertheless, Baskett was still holding many of the cards because of his monopolistic aspirations he was the Bible printer in England and still the King’s printer.

He vigorously defended his right to print. In a court case in Scotland, he contended that as the King’s printer he had, under the Act of Union, a right to print and sell the Bible anywhere in the United Kingdom. It was found in favor of Baskett.


In 1731 the presses of the University of Cambridge leased the printing of Bibles and prayer books to W. Fenner who was introducing stereotype printing invented by William Ged. Baskett was desperate to stop this introduction and thus began a string of problems for Baskett, including bankruptcy and the burning down of his premises in 1738. He died in 1742. His sons Thomas and Robert took over the presses and so the Baskett dynasty continued in Oxford and London for several decades.
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