Sunday, September 2, 2007


Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, the first real book to be printed (in Latin) using the technique of printing (movable type) which Gutenberg invented in the 1450s, was initially owned by the Benedictine monastery, S. Jacobus in Würzburg, Franconia. There are copies on paper and copies on velum.

There are 48 known copies of the Book of which 6 are in Great Britain. The British Museum owns two copies on velum, one was bequeathed to it in 1846 by
British politician Thomas Grenville. It was bought at MacCarthy-Reagh's sale in 1817 for 6260 francs which was a fortune for the time.

Apart from the two copies of the Gutenberg Bible in the British Library there are 46 other complete copies of the Bible or substantial fragments worldwide. The country with the most copies is Germany (12), the United States has eleven and the United Kingdom six and not eight as falsely stated by Wikipedia. The Bodleian Library in Oxford has a complete copy printed on paper with a fascinating history. It was given by Erhard Neninger, mayor of Heilbronn, to the local Carmelite monks, probably in 1475. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, they handed it over to the Swedish general Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1654), in order to buy off the army. The Bodleian Library bought it in 1793 for £100 from the French cardinal Étienne Charles de Loménie de Brienne.

There is a copy in Cambridge University Library. It has been digitalised, and is accessible from within Cambridge University. This copy is of special interest because, around 1469, Heinrich Eggestein, a printer in Strasbourg, used it for a new edition of the Bible which he produced.

Eton College has a copy on paper, notable for having retained a very early binding, made in the German university city of Erfurt. It is richly decorated, perhaps also in Erfurt.

At Lambeth Palace in London, the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury, there is a copy of volume 2, printed on vellum. This copy is of great interest as it was decorated in England, very beautifully and very expensively. The Gutenberg Bible was sold out already before printing was finished and it was evidently distributed widely from the earliest days. This may well be the first printed book to have reached England, but its first owner is unknown.

The John Rylands Library in Manchester has a copy on paper. Nothing is known about its early history. Its first recorded owner was George John, second Earl Spencer (1758-1834), ancestor of the late Lady Diana.

The copy now in the National Library of Scotland was acquired by the Advocates' Library, shortly before 1806 from David Steuart, Lord Provost of Edinburgh. It contains splendid South German decoration.

The first copy that attracted attention was discovered about 1760 among the books of the French statesman Cardinal Jules Mazarin. The Bible, printed at Mainz, probably required several years of work; it began in 1452 and was completed not later than 1455 and printed in an edition of about 180 copies. The text of the Bible is Latin. Colored initials and other illuminations were hand drawn after the pages were printed. The Gutenberg Bible lacks many print features that modern readers are accustomed to, such as pagination, word spacing, indentations, and paragraph breaks.

In 1978, the General Theological Seminary's Gutenberg Bible was given for sale on auction to Christie's : it sold in New York for $2.2 million. In 1987 an other Gutenberg Bible went for sale from the Carrie Estelle Donehy Foundation and found a buyer for $ 5.9 million.

No comments: