Today’s pic of the week highlights an item from our collection that finds itself in the spotlight very often, whether as part of a display in one of the Library of Congress’s many fascinating public exhibitions, or as a quasi-sacred book in the swearing-in ceremony of public officials. It is also one of my favorite items to share with the public.
The piece is a 1789 imprint of the acts of the first session of the first congress under the new federal constitution. It also includes the text of the constitution itself. It was printed in New York, which was then the seat of the federal government, by printers/booksellers Hodge, Allen and Campbell. An interesting feature of the Library of Congress’s copy of the work is an ad placement found on both sides of the last printed leaf which solicited subscribers for what would be the first American edition of what was known as Brown’s Bible or the Self-Interpreting Bible.
Brown’s Bible was an immensely popular study bible, rich with notes and commentary, assembled by the Scottish theologian John Brown (1722-1787). The advertisement promises its readers that the edition will include a list of the subscribers who made its printing possible. The printers made good on their promise. When Hodge, Allen and Campbell produced the bible in 1792, the list of subscribers included some of the most well-known people in America of that time. Among those, one stands out–literally: in large letters above the list appears the name and title of the first subscriber, George Washington, President of the United States.
Brown’s Bible aside, the occasion for this pic of the week relates to another feature of this copy of the constitution and acts of congress that makes it particularly interesting; namely that its title page bears the signature of the first president of the United States of America. Happy Birthday, Mr. President. Have a look:
Let me preempt the inevitable correction that today is not in fact the birthday of George Washington. When Washington was born, the date was February 11, 1731. It was only after the calendar reform in England in 1752 that his birthday was adjusted to February 22, 1732. It is said that Washington himself continued to celebrate his birthday on February 11 into his sixties.