Steve Ness, librarian and archivist

Late last year the library was given an exceptionally rare copy of the Bible, printed by Andreas Gessner in Zürich, Switzerland, in 1555. I find only one other copy of this printing in WorldCat, the online union catalog of thousands of libraries worldwide. Its rarity was confirmed by Dr. Urs Leu, rare books librarian at the Central Library in Zürich, who added that the translation Gessner printed is very similar to that printed by his contemporary, Christopher Froschauer. Despite a lack of direct evidence, Leu says that he would not be surprised if the early Swiss Brethren used Gessner’s printing as well as Froschauer’s.

Bound in full leather with brass corners and clasps (straps missing), our copy is missing two leaves in the first section and several pages are loose. Passed down through a Lancaster County Hess family, the copy was part of accession 2016.068, which included a sampler stitched by Mary Hertzler, ca. 1837-1848. The Bible includes handwritten records of a damaging hail storm (August 11, 1602), heavy frost in the vineyards in 1602, and comet sightings in 1680-1681 and 1743-1744.

We know what the book is; however, its historical ownership is not clear. While oral tradition suggests that it was a Hess family, I find no Hess names in the Bible. There is, however, a list of persons with the name Byers: Jacob, Cadarainea, Mary, Henry, Nancy, Barbara, Matty, [Easter?], [illegible entry]. A date of 1796 (possibly 1790) is at the head of this list. Was this perhaps a Byer(s)/Boyer(s) family Bible which became associated with the Hesses through marriage? Is “Matty” the Magdalena Boyer/Byer who married David Hess (1784-1873)? If you have any information about this mystery I would be very glad to know. I can be reached by email ( or by phone (717.393.9745, ext. 202).