Centuries-old Bible has new home at Westmoreland County Historical Society
Wearing white linen gloves, Joanna Moyar carefully turned pages of a centuries-old Bible that up until a few months ago had been stored in tissue-paper wrapping inside a shoebox that sat in a dark closet.
The Martin Luther German New Testament Bible may be more than 400 years old, according to Moyar, Westmoreland County Historical Society education director.
It traveled thousands of miles with various Klingensmith family members and has now found a home at the Westmoreland County Historical Society.
Margaret “Marge” Hanes, of Murrysville donated the Bible owned by her late husband, Maurice, a descendent of the Klingensmith family.
Date in book: 1545
The book has a 1545 date printed in it, but the copyright page is missing, so it's unclear when the book was printed.
What is certain is it has been in the Klingensmith family for more than 250 years and has great meaning for its members.
“It's a piece of history, and history is valuable,” said Kathy Starr of Allegheny Township, a Klingensmith descendant who is the record keeper for her family's history. “It's important to know where we came from; it's important to know there are ancestors of mine who valued their Christian heritage and took good care of that Bible.
“That's not to be taken lightly.”
On Thursday, Starr, Hanes and library staff gathered at the historical society, off Route 30 in Unity. They presented Hanes with a dedication page for the Bible and a family history of her husband's ancestors dating to the 1700s, when the Klingensmith's came to Pennsylvania from Germany. The family eventually settled in what is now the Jeannette-Penn Township area.
The leather-bound Bible is a little smaller that a 5--by-7-inch photograph and about 2 inches thick.
Until last August, when Hanes brought the Bible to the society, she kept it wrapped in tissue paper inside a shoebox.
“We never quite knew what to do with it,” Hanes said. “Finally, I decided that because of the Westmoreland connection, I ought to see whether (the society) would be interested in having it.”
Bible was well-traveled
It's believed that the Bible made the trip from Germany to the United States with one of the earliest Klingensmith immigrants, Joseph or Daniel.
Daniel's signature is on the last page of the book.
Joseph Klingensmith, born in 1809 in Westmoreland County, a descendent of the earliest Joseph, inherited the Bible. He took it from Allegheny Township to the state of Indiana when his family moved in the 1830s.
Eventually the Bible was passed down to Maurice Hanes' mother, Retta, and it returned to Pennsylvania when Maurice and Marge Hanes moved to Murrysville from New Jersey in 1972.
Martin Luther's translation of the Bible from Greek to German is extremely influential because it was so widely circulated.
He published his New Testament translation in September 1522. The Old Testament translation followed and the entire Bible in German was published in 1534.
The 1545 edition of the full Bible — the last revision — was published one year before Luther's death.
The historical society does not intend to have the Klingensmith Bible appraised, Moyar said.
The society focuses on historical value, not monetary, she said.
“It really adds to our collection and our family history,” Moyar said. “It adds to our information on the Klingensmiths' coming to America.”
To determine whether the Bible is as old as suspected, an expert would have to look at the binding, the paper and the way it's printed, she said.
Bible expert weighs in
Based on the fact that the verses are numbered, the Bible was not printed in the 1540s, said John Jeffcoat, director of marketing for the Bible Museum Inc. and owner of Greatsite.com, a Phoenix-based dealer of rare and antique Bibles.
“The advent of numbered verses was in the 1550s in Stephanus Greek New Testaments,” he said. “I suspect the first German language scriptures to have numbered verses were not before the late 1550s to 1560s at the earliest.”
A complete Martin Luther New Testament printed in the 1540s and in excellent condition, could be worth $15,000 to $45,000, Jeffcoat said.
Two key factors that affect value, in addition to age and rarity, are completeness and condition, he said.
“Antique Bibles that are in good condition and not missing pages are unspeakably rare and valuable,” Jeffcoat said.
New Ken kin ‘thrilled'
Tom Klingensmith of New Kensington has researched his family history and attends its annual reunion at Bushy Run Battlefield. He traveled to Unity to see the Bible.
“I'm very thrilled to handle something my ancestors handled long ago,” he said. “I'm very grateful she preserved it.”
Starr said the Bible helps make an important connection in their family history.
“I'm amazed that I have a whole room full of Klingensmith (history) and I don't have this particular line,” Starr said.
She noted that descendents believe there is another Klingensmith family Bible, which may contain a written family history.
“Maybe this will cause the person who has it to come forward,” Starr said.
Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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