Updated: Feb 14
Robert Barker, the King's official printer printed two different King James Bibles in 1611. They are Herbert # 309 and #310 respectively (see the post on A Helpful Reference Tool). Barker had previously printed two other bibles dated 1611. Both of them had been Geneva Bibles. The Houghton Library at Harvard has a copy of the last bible that Barker printed prior to beginning to print King James Bibles. A librarian there was kind enough to send me a photocopy of a representative page as a courtesy so that I might verify the oft stated fact that Barker had used brand new type to print the King James Bible. Indeed he had, the type for the Geneva Bibles was well worn whereas the KJV has new crisp lettering.
There is some confusion over just what time of year Barker first printed the King James Bible. According to Winston Churchill in the preface to his first volume of Lord Marlborough's life, that confusion is enhanced by the 17th century practice in England of not changing the calendar year until Lady's Day, March 25th. In other words the two Geneva Bibles were not printed until after March 25th of what we would call 1611. Then in that same year (using the old English style) Barker printed a complete King James Bible and a New Testament. That New Testament was most certainly printed in the year that we would label as 1612.
Historians often wonder just what time of year it was when the first King James Bible was finally ready for the public. We can deduce that fairly accurately by looking at Barker's output in bibles for the next few years, then figure how long it took him to print each bible. In 1610, 1611 and in 1612 Barker only printed 4 bibles in each of those years. I think that we can safely assume that it took him 3 months initially to edit, set the type and to print a bible in those years. (In 1613 he cranked out 10 but his quality plummeted.)
The first Geneva Bible he printed in 1611 has two dates associated with it, the bible itself is dated 1610 but the tables printed in that same bible are dated 1611. That would cause us to think that the finishing touches were done in early 1611 (old Calendar). That would mean that he printed it in either late March or April of that year. The next Geneva Bible would have come out 3 months later which would have been June or July of that year. Giving Barker 3 more months to get out the first King James Bible would give us a good guess of it being printed in September or October of that year. As was stated in an earlier post (The Original Manuscript Feb 4th 2017) The two bibles Barker printed that year are not good witnesses to what the original handwritten manuscript had said. There are just too many printing errors. In fact the two bibles don't agree with each other. The modern practice of going back to an original 1611 to ascertain textual issues suffers from the many errors contained in these two printings. Additionally they suffer from being edited using the standards for spelling, punctuation and capitalization used in 1611.
A modern King James Bible uses new rules promulgated in the early 18th century by Jonathan Swift and Dr. Ben Johnson. Keep in mind, no words have been changed but the spellings and rules for punctuation and capitalization are certainly changed. This timeline that we will be looking at will outline for the interested reader how we got the King James Bible that we have today. (Which this author believes and God knows to be perfect.)