Four centuries of ‘Martyrs Mirror’ to be auctioned

Lancaster rare book auction to feature Dutch, German, English editions

Mar 2, 2015 by and

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Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Historical Society will auction two unusual Martyrs Mirror books March 13, including a second edition of the original Dutch published in 1685 in Amsterdam.

A second-edition Martyrs Mirror published in 1685 in Amsterdam sits open to the illustration of Dirk Willems. — Scott Sundberg/LMHS

A second-edition Martyrs Mirror published in 1685 in Amsterdam sits open to the illustration of Dirk Willems. — Scott Sundberg/LMHS

A 1748 edition, translated from Dutch to German and then published in Ephrata, Pa., will be also available.

Additionally, two English editions will be at the rare book auction, one published in 1886 in Elkhart, Ind., and another in 1964 by Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, Pa.

That’s books from four centuries and three languages, said David Sauder, LMHS book auction coordinator.

The society holds six auctions a year, but Sauder expects the two oldest of the Martyrs Mirrors will attract a larger crowd than usual.

“I’ve been at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society for seven years, and this is only the second time we’ve had one in the Dutch,” he said.

According to the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, the 1685 edition includes the same text as the 1,290-page original, written by Dutch Mennonite pastor Tieleman Jansz van Braght and published in 1660. But the second edition contains small additions, including the first appearance of the word Martelaersspiegel (martyrs’ mirror).

The book to be auctioned is missing a few pages, and the cover is loose, Sauder said.

“But for a book that’s over 300 years old, it’s still relatively good,” he said.

Auction organizers expect the 1685 and 1748 editions each to sell for around $3,000 or $4,000.

Burden to teach

The 1748 edition shows up at an auction maybe once or twice a year, Sauder said. There were 1,300 copies of the 1,512-page German edition published.

Nearby Franconia Mennonites asked residents of Ephrata Cloister, a monastery-like religious commune of celibate men and women, to translate and publish the book.

“They had this burden that they needed to teach the young people the way of peace and nonresistance, so they went to the cloister and found Peter Miller,” Sauder said.

Miller was good with languages and could translate the old Dutch book into German, the language of the Mennonite communities at the time. So Miller translated it, and the brothers at the cloister worked to print it. The process took several years.

The book doesn’t have any of the 104 etchings by Jan Luyken of the original.

“In Ephrata they did not have access to those copper plates,” Sauder said. “It is still significant because it was the first Martyrs Mirror translated into German.”

It was also the first printing in America.

“It was the largest book printed in America at that time,” Sauder said. The printing press used for the book can be viewed today in Bedford County, Pa.

He said LMHS book sales usually draw 30 to 50 people. They tend to be from Amish and Old Order groups, but mainstream Mennonites attend as well.

“Old Order who value tradition see [Martyrs Mirror] as especially important to their heritage,” he said.

But he believes the book is important to all Mennonites.

“It is the story of their ancestors and how they were willing to suffer and die for what they believed,” he said. “I think it’s relevant even today.”

Many other books on Amish and Mennonite history will also be for sale. The auction books are consigned, so LMHS receives a commission from each sale.

The sale starts at 6:30 p.m. at LMHS. Absentee bids can be made 24 hours in advance of the sale at, where the entire catalogue of books to be sold can also be viewed.

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