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A Family Treasure and A Dutch Bible Museum

Category Resources
Date November 20, 2012

For years Huibert Den Boer Kept a family heirloom in a cupboard collecting dust. Its broken and bent locks and three missing corners made the 300-year-old book look shoddy and unworthy of shelf space in his California home. It took a television show relating the story of Dutch immigrants to the Michigan area of the United States to spark renewed interest in the long-neglected Statenbijbel taking up the dark corner of a storage cupboard. It was time to dust it off, open it up and find out what could be done to restore its past lustre and significance.

Huibert Den Boer is a long­time member of the United Reformed Church of Escondido, California. The Statenbijbel had been handed down in the Den Boer family for a number of generations. Following the second law of thermodynamics, books as well as all things, when left to themselves, naturally decline with time. And considering all the travel this 300-year-old Bible has done in its time, coming as it did on an immigrant ship from the Netherlands, and the number of times it has changed hands, the wear was not surprising. The Den Boer family actually first immigrated from Holland to South Africa in 1956 when Huibert was 11 years old. From South Africa, now with a wife and four children, the Den Boers left for California in 1986, becoming members of the Escondido CRC and now URC since 1988. ‘Watching the (TV) show, which included an antique appraiser, I was amazed by what the Dutch immigrants brought to the U.S. when they left Holland. Many of the goods were authentic and irreplaceable, with high appraised values.’

Huibert decided that it would be a family treasure. He began the task by searching the internet to see where he could take the leather bound book, with a Certificate of Authorization signed by the representative of the mayor of Amsterdam on 14 February, 1715. The signature, he says, is still legible. He relates some of the Bible’s known history:

I inherited the Statenbijbel from my dad, whose name Paulus den Boer, born 1917, is inscribed on the front page. His dad, my grand­father, appears as Huibert den Boer, born 1880, son of Kornelis den Boer, born 1854. Another name that is written is that of Marthinus Rijnbende, born 1838, married to Ingetje Adriana Hoogenboom, which I believe was the original owner. The Dutch do an unbelievable amount of research in genealogies and the official genealogy of my grandfather Huibert den Boer includes the name of Marthinus Rijnbende. Up to now, I was unable to figure out how closely they were related.

After a number of hits and misses, Mr. Den Boer came upon a website called the Statenbijbel museum, based in the Netherlands. He took up phone contact with the owner of the museum, Wim van’t Zelfde and realized that a proper restoration of this Bible would mean a trip to Holland.

With his wife Debbie scheduled to travel to Europe for an annual conference, last year in Spain, the Den Boers looked for a flight that would involve a layover in Amsterdam, one long enough to drop off the Statenbijbel at the home of a cousin, who would deliver the Bible to van’t Zelfde, the restorer. Mission accomplished.

A year later, the Den Boers on another trip to Europe managed to stay a full day in Holland to pick up the now restored Statenbijbel, and this time, to meet with Wim van’t Zelfde and tour his museum. ‘Wim treated us to a two-hour tour and lecture of this wonderful museum,’ said Mr. Den Boer. ‘In 2010, it was rated the top of the small museums in the Netherlands and it is located in Leerdam, in the centre of the country. A stopover at this unique museum would be one of your highlights on a visit to Holland.’

High praise for the museum also comes with high praise for the restoration work of the museum’s owner. Today Huibert Den Boer, who before retiring was president of a company that imported and distributed flower bulbs in the U.S., estimates the value of the Bible at about $4,000 Euros, maybe $5,000 U.S., but to him, the sentimental value is worth far more. Plans are to keep the now restored Statenbijbel in the family, to be passed on to the next generation.

Among the many places to go and the things to see while on vacation in the Netherlands, a Bible museum in the community of Leerdam, might not top the list. Yet for those interested in the history of printing, in the artistry of book binding and illustration, given the artistic detail and craftmanship that went into the production of Bibles specifically in the early years of printing, and for those interested in learning about a unique chapter in Bible making history, you may want to pencil into your itinerary a trip to the Statenbijbel Museum.

‘The display at our museum consists out of some hundreds of old, mostly Dutch Bibles, including Roman Catholic as well as Old Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and Reformed Dutch Authorized versions printed from 1500 until 1950. Part of the collection consists of Bibles that still need to be restored. This restoration is done in the museum’s workshop, according to the owners website, which is set up in three languages, Dutch, English and French. The website states that the museum contains unique items not available in any other location in the Netherlands. Among the items on display are printing presses and printers, Bibles illustrated with wood carvings, steel and copper engraving, etchings, along with stone and coloured lithographs; Bibles with historical maps: Bibles with brass, copper, silver-plated and gold-plated locks, and children’s Bibles.

Pre-booked tours are available for groups including family reunion tours, Bible study groups, etc. Demonstrations of Bible restoration work are also available on request. Check out


John Van Dyk is editor of Christian Renewal, from the November 14, 2012, edition of which the above is reprinted with permission.

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