Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Gutenberg Bible

PD Photo: Binding of the copy of the Gutenberg Bible located at the University of Texas at Austin

PD Photo: First page of the first volume of the Gutenberg Bible: The Epistle of St. Jerome from the University of Texas, Austin. The page has 40 lines.

PD Photo: Another Gutenberg Bible with open pages

PD Photo: Another page of the Gutenberg Bible, showing page decoration/ illustration

The Gutenberg Bible, also known as the 42-line Bible, the Mazarin Bible or the B42, was the first major book printed with a movable type printing press. It is an edition of the Vulgate, printed by Johannes Gutenberg, in Mainz, Germany, in 1455. Gutenberg invented the printing press and he was the first European to print with the movable type.

Unlike many people believe, the Bible was not Gutenberg's first printing work, as his printing press was in operation by 1450, and a German poem had been printed, possibly the first item to be printed, followed by other texts. For the Bible project, Gutenberg borrowed 800 guilders from a moneylender, and work for printing the Bible commenced in 1452. In 1455 Gutenberg published 180 copies of the 42-line Bible, 135 on paper and 45 on vellum. Only 47 or 48 copies of the 42-line Bibles are known to exist now, and of these only 21 are complete.

Many Gutenberg Bibles have been rebound over the years, and now only 9 copies retain the fifteenth-century bindings. A complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible has 1,272 pages, with a folio size of 307 mm x 445 mm. The handmade paper used by Gutenberg was of fine quality and was imported from Italy.

Gutenberg had to develop a new oil-based ink so that it would stick better to the metal types. His ink was based on carbon with high metallic contents, including copper, lead and titanium.

The Gutenberg Bible seems to have been sold out immediately on printing, to buyers as far as England. It is assumed that most Gutenberg Bibles were sold to monasteries, universities and wealthy individuals, as people of ordinary incomes were unable to afford them, though Gutenberg Bibles were significantly cheaper than manuscript Bibles.

The institutions which display Gutenberg Bibles to the public include the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, the British Library and the Library of Congress, USA. Only a few copies are owned by religious institutions, with most copies owned by universities and other scholarly institutions. The first Gutenberg Bible reached North America in 1847, and it is now in the New York Public Library.

In the 1920s a New York book dealer, Gabriel Wells, bought a damaged copy of the Gutenberg Bible, dismantled it and sold sections and leaves to collectors and libraries. These leaves, according to reports, now sell for $20,000 to $100,000, depending upon their condition.

The only copy held in a non-western country is the first volume of a Gutenberg Bible (Hubay 45) at Keio University, located in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. The copy was originally purchased on 22 October 1987 by Eiichi Kobayashi, a director at the Maruzen Company, for $5.4 million. Currently, the price of a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible is estimated at $25-35 million.

Printing of the Gutenberg Bible played an important role in the development of the Renaissance and Reformation movements and the Scientific Revolution and laid the foundation for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the common masses.

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