What is That Curious Book?

March 13, 1789
Enoch Brooks Signed Hieroglyphick Bible

What do you think of this “curious” book? These pages are from A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, printed in the U.S. in 1788. At that time, “curious” meant carefully made. This particular copy of the children’s book, one of only a few known to exist in the world, probably belonged to a boy named Enoch Brooks. Someone wrote “Enoch Brooks’ Book, Princeton, March 13th, 1789” in permanent ink.

The illustrations you see are made from woodcuts. Perhaps you’ve made them in art class, carving around an image on a block of wood, smearing ink on the carved picture, and pressing it to paper. This book contains nearly 500 woodcut prints, more than any other in America at the time. Who printed this curious Bible?

A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible is one of more than one hundred children’s books printed by Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) (not the same Isaiah Thomas who was a recent basketball star). Thomas learned about printing as a young apprentice. During a long career, Thomas published numerous popular titles for children and adults. Thomas also made a stand for American independence with his printing skills. How did he do this?

During the early part of the American Revolution, Thomas’s newspaper, the Massachusetts Spy, published eyewitness accounts of the battles of Lexington and Concord. These stories strengthened the popular resistance to British rule that would lead to the country’s independence. His newspaper made the British authorities angry. To continue his work, Thomas fled to Worcester, Massachusetts. There he created the Massachusetts Magazine. This lovely engraving was featured in an issue in 1789.

A lover of books, Thomas had a collection of 8,000 titles, which he donated at the end of his life to the American Antiquarian Society. Today, the society has two-thirds of all the books printed in the United States up to 1821! How many books do you have in your library? Do you or your family have any “curious” books?