Ivan Lee Box Art and the Macklin Bible

A beautiful Macklin Bible of 1800 is on display at Unity Archives, where it is permanently housed. Only 150 of the six-volume sets were printed, making it among the rarest objects in the archives’ collection.

The illustrated folio Bible is named after its publisher, Thomas Macklin, a famous 18th-century print seller and picture dealer who produced the project to highlight the “glory of the English school of painting and engraving.” He created a new typeface and new kind of paper for the oversized Bible. Inside each volume are full-page paintings and designs by some of the foremost artists of that era as well as copperplate engravings.

The Macklin Bible is considered the largest English version of the Bible ever printed on a commercial letterpress, with each book measuring 16 by 19 inches and together weighing more than 100 pounds. Inside, an inscription reads:

“To the King, This Edition of the Sacred Writings, executed under his royal patronage, by His gracious permission, most humbly dedicated, by his Majesties most faithful subject and servant Thomas Macklin, London, January 1791"

A favorite among Bible collectors, the glorious Macklin Bible is a treasure in itself but there’s yet another gem to be discovered in this Unity Archives’ display.

The delicate and historic books have been carefully situated on shelves in a pair of exquisite, hand-carved walnut cabinets crafted in the 1940s by Unity carpenter Ivan Lee.

The solid wood “cabinet boxes” were designed in 1943 by Rickert Fillmore, second son of Unity founders Myrtle and Charles Fillmore, and built by Lee, whose work as a Unity carpenter included many notable wooden doors found on the Unity Village campus.

Consistent with Unity values to protect the natural environment, the skillful Lee would use wood taken from trees that workers felled to clear the route for the Missouri Pacific Railroad that crossed Unity property. He used a  gas-powered sawmill at the Village, once located south of the Casting Building, to cut the native trees, first into huge beams then into lumber for his projects.

Once the wood seasoned sufficiently, Lee would select choice lumber for his artistic work. Using Rickert Fillmore’s design, Lee constructed the two pieces in the Unity cabinet-making shop. The cabinet boxes were on the first floor of Unity Tower for years, then in the hallway just outside Unity Library in the Education Building.

In 1955, Lee “refitted” the cabinets to accommodate the delicate and substantial Macklin Bible, which Unity had acquired three years earlier. All six volumes of the Bible are housed in the customized boxes on display in the Heritage Area of Unity Archives, right outside Charles and Myrtle Fillmore’s offices.